Case in hands of jury
By By Suzanne Monk/The Meridian Star
April 12, 2001
The jury began deliberations today in what has become known as the "Comcast trial" a case that set the federal government against four defendants accused of conspiring to defraud Comcast of $2.6 million.
The trial began in U.S. District Court in Meridian almost three weeks ago.
David Van Colvin, a fifth defendant in the case, pleaded guilty in 1999 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and income tax evasion.
In the mid-1990s, Colvin was regional manager of Comcast-Primestar, a new satellite division. Prosecutors say he was the "man in the middle" directing the activities of his alleged co-conspirators.
Colvin will receive a reduced sentence in exchange for his testimony against: Kim Gianakos, owner of a public relations firm that did business with Comcast; Kary Graham, manager of a Comcast satellite sales office in Waynesboro; C.D. "Bubba" Newell, a former vice president of Trustmark National Bank in Meridian; and contractor Darrell Wayne Raley.
U.S. District Judge Tom Lee reviewed the indictment with jurors Wednesday and instructed them on the points of law they were to consider. Several instructions are expected to play pivotal roles in the jury's decision:
All four defendants were indicted for conspiracy to commit wire/mail fraud. The indictment lists additional counts of conspiracy to commit money-laundering against Gianakos, Raley and Newell.
Judge Lee explained to the jury that in a conspiracy, two or more people knowingly participate in a plan to commit a crime.
It is not necessary that all conspirators have a large role. It is not necessary that all conspirators know each other. At least one conspirator must have committed an overt act to further the crime. The prosecution does not have to prove that the conspiracy succeeded to win a conviction.
The indictment also lists additional counts of mail fraud against Gianakos and Graham, wire fraud against Raley and Newell, money-laundering against Raley and Newell and tax evasion against Newell.
Willful blindness, deliberate ignorance'
None of the defendants deny that money was stolen or that their actions may have furthered Colvin's plan to defraud Comcast. A conviction, however, can hinge on whether the people involved knew they were part of a conspiracy.
Three defendants Gianakos, Raley and Graham took the stand and said they did not know Colvin was using them to defraud Comcast.
The same three defendants testified that they had misgivings at one point or another. Two sought professional advice. Gianakos consulted attorney Frank Trapp, who is representing her in this trial. Raley asked his accountant about the ethics of becoming an American Express vendor.
Graham took the matter up with Colvin directly. Two support witnesses testified that Graham asked Colvin if it was OK to bill Comcast for reimbursement of personal expenses. Colvin, they said, assured him that it was acceptable.
The defense attorneys have suggested these are demonstrations of innocence.
Prosecutors have insinuated that these actions show that each had guilty knowledge their actions were wrong but that they were "willfully blind" and kept themselves "deliberately ignorant" in order to continue profiting from the arrangement.
Defense attorney Henry Palmer said Newell and Raley were taken in by Colvin's lies explaining that his sudden affluence was due to inheritances, bonuses and business partnerships.
All three defense attorneys objected strenuously to the judge's instruction allowing jurors to consider "willful blindness and deliberate ignorance" in reaching their verdict. Judge Lee denied the objections.
For the jury, the question comes down to this: Which of the co-defendants were willing participants in the scheme and which join Comcast in the list of Colvin's victims?
The indictment also includes three counts of tax evasion against Newell. Much of the money Colvin charged on his American Express card benefited Newell and his family, as Colvin showered them with houses, pick-up trucks, mobile homes, four-wheelers, tractors and furnishing.
Newell did not declare these items on his 1994, 1995 and 1996 tax returns.
He did not take the stand in his own defense, but his attorney will argue Newell did not declare these items because they were gifts. The Internal Revenue Service does not consider gifts "income," and does not require taxpayers to list them on returns.
The prosecution's stand is that Newell knew that the gifts were paid for with stolen money meaning, ironically, that they would have to be declared on Newell's returns.
In 1994, Newell's return said his taxable income was $22,779; prosecutors say it was $46,101. In 1995, Newell's return said his taxable income was $34,686; prosecutors say it was $293,910. In 1996, Newell's return said his taxable income was $39,244; prosecutors say it was $308,511.
Jury deliberations began after closing arguments today.
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail her at email@example.com.