Testimony ends in currency fraud trial

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 6, 2012 - 9:45 PM

The two sides will present a combined six hours of closing arguments, beginning today.

Closing arguments begin Thursday in the long trial of three men accused of helping Trevor Cook run the second-largest Ponzi scheme in Minnesota history, which bilked $194 million from more than 700 investors nationwide.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys David MacLaughlin and Tracy Perzel will have up to three hours. Attorneys for the defendants, Jason "Bo" Beckman, Gerald Durand and Patrick Kiley, get one hour each.

The defendants face various counts of wire and mail fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. Beckman and Durand also face several tax charges.

Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis thanked the jurors Wednesday for the close attention they've paid. "I must say, you're the best jury I've ever had," he said.

The trial has run 153 hours and 45 minutes since it began April 19 in Minneapolis with 16 prospective jurors. Since then, Davis has dismissed three, leaving just one extra.

Jurors heard testimony from 90 witnesses -- including two who testified twice and three who testified by deposition -- and have scrutinized 806 exhibits introduced into evidence.

The testimony came to an abrupt end Wednesday when H. Nasif Mahmoud, Kiley's attorney from Stone Mountain, Ga., announced he was resting his case after calling just two of 10 witnesses on his list.

Jaws dropped and rebounded into smiles as jurors, federal agents, lawyers and court watchers realized the case was finally complete.

The defendants called just five witnesses among them.

Beckman testified for three days and called one other witness, an airline record-keeper who testified that Beckman was out of town on the date that a key government witness claimed he met with Beckman to discuss problems brewing with Cook's currency investment program, the basis of the fraud.

The witness, convicted co-conspirator Christopher Pettengill, was recalled Wednesday and said he might have been off by a day but insisted the meeting took place.

Durand had just one witness: himself. But he testified in a manner that kept federal prosecutors from cross-examining him. Brian Toder, his attorney, had a reader recite a lengthy deposition Durand gave to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in September 2009, about two months after the Ponzi scheme collapsed.

Durand was represented by an attorney at the time and his testimony was made under oath, Davis said, so jurors must treat it like testimony in his courtroom.

Durand said he had warned Beckman in June 2008 that he needed to get rid of Cook because "he's off the deep end." Beckman suggested waiting because Beckman was going to bring his wife, Hollie, into the business.

Durand denied selling Cook's program to investors without Cook, Pettengill or Beckman present. And he said he would never let anyone put all of their assets into the currency program or any other investment.

That testimony flew in the face of what jurors heard from Richard C. Myers, 79. He testified that Durand had "promoted the idea" of mortgaging his home in Gambrels, Md. -- which he owned free and clear -- so that he could use the proceeds to invest in the currency program.

Myers did that, and ultimately lost the home to foreclosure, he said. Altogether, Myers said, he lost $3 million in cash that he invested, plus $2 million in gold and silver coins he had sent to Durand and Cook for a separate investment program.

Durand was asked what became of an investigation into the currency program that was launched by some attorneys Beckman had hired to help his application to buy a piece of the Minnesota Wild. "It led to my demise," he said.

Justin Delfino, an SEC attorney, asked Durand who would know what happened with the investors' money.

"One and only one person knows the facts, and that is Trevor Cook," Durand said.

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493

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