Beckman spends second day in glare of cross-examination

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 6, 2012 - 8:45 AM

The brash money manager became indignant under questioning by the prosecutor.

Jason "Bo" Beckman's time in the hotseat came to an end Tuesday after 21 hours of federal court testimony before a full gallery of attorneys, federal agents and former investors in a $194 million Ponzi scheme he allegedly helped convicted fraudster Trevor Cook run.

Much of the audience came for the sheer spectacle of watching Assistant U.S. Attorney David MacLaughlin cross-examine Beckman, a feisty 42-year-old money manager from Plymouth. Beckman claims to be among the nation's top portfolio managers yet insists that he was duped like any other sucker who bit on Cook's promises of double-digit returns with no risk to principal.

MacLaughlin prodded Beckman for nearly seven hours beneath a portrait of his late father, Harry MacLaughlin, who served as chief U.S. district judge in Minnesota in 1992. When he finished, the courtroom quickly emptied, with only a handful of spectators staying to hear testimony on behalf of Beckman's two codefendants, Gerald Durand and Patrick Kiley.

The trial, which began April 19, is expected to go to the jury by early next week.

MacLaughlin calmly goaded Beckman with questions that attacked the testimony he had given under questioning by his own attorney, Douglas Altman.

"Let's have a little fun here," MacLaughlin quipped as he and a team of federal agents assembled folders full of evidence.

Beckman's responses included petulant comebacks, agitated gestures and lengthy soliloquies.

Early on, MacLaughlin attempted to prove that Beckman had falsified some client statements.

"I've been patient, but you don't know what you're talking about!" Beckman snapped.

He occasionally tried to talk over MacLaughlin's questions, at one point earning a stern glare from Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis that brought a hush to the courtroom. Beckman looked up quizzically at the judge. After a pause, Davis said, "A question is going to be asked of you. Answer the question. This is not a conversation in a bar."

MacLaughlin's questioning had a consistent pattern. He'd walk Beckman through documents that the government contends shows he knowingly engaged in a series of frauds. Beckman would then respond by saying the evidence proves just the opposite.

MacLaughlin detailed some $13 million in losses suffered by the heirs of Arthur W. Quiggle, a former executive with the Creamette pasta company. The family members were Beckman's clients.

"You decimated that family," MacLaughlin said. "You decimated them. Didn't you?"

'Shame on you!'

"You're saying I'm responsible for the Ponzi scheme!" Beckman replied, his voice rising. "If your allegation is that we took their money, shame on you!"

MacLaughlin continued. He noted that a bevy of lawyers had advised Beckman a year before the bogus currency program Cook concocted collapsed that it violated a number of laws. They advised him to return the investors' money immediately and cut his ties with Cook. MacLaughlin asked Beckman if ever he told his clients about that advice.

"No, because there was no need to," Beckman said. "Great strides had been made. Great strides! The program was completely different by that time."

In fact, though, his clients lost their investment in the currency program, MacLaughlin said.

"Because the money was stolen," Beckman responded.

MacLaughlin asked Beckman if he continues to assert that he was a victim of the scheme, no different from the other 700 investors, mostly retirees, who lost their life savings.

"Correct. And the evidence has been overwhelming to support that," Beckman said.

MacLaughlin noted that the other investors didn't share offices at the Van Dusen mansion with Cook and convicted fraudster Christopher Pettengill, who testified for the government. Nor did were they privy to the advice of the attorneys Beckman hired.

"I'm the one who lost a company. We all lost in this. Nobody won," Beckman said.

Durand, 62, of Faribault, decided against testifying in the case. Instead, he has a "professional reader" reciting more than 200 pages of testimony that he gave before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Chicago in September 2009, a couple of months after the Ponzi scheme collapsed. Brian Toder, Durand's lawyer, said he would rest when that concludes Wednesday morning. H. Nasif Mahmoud, Kiley's attorney, said he will call up to 10 witnesses.

After sending the jurors home Tuesday, Davis asked the lawyers how much time they'd need for closing arguments. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Perzel said about four hours for the government.

"Does the government really want four hours?" Davis asked. "Don't you think the jury's heard enough?"

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493

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