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Defense rests in Bales trial after flurry of witnesses

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SOUTH BEND — Closing arguments are expected to begin Wednesday afternoon in the federal fraud trial of Indianapolis real estate broker John M. Bales and partner William E. Spencer after the defense raced through seven witnesses Tuesday and early Wednesday.

The defense made many of its points to the jury via tough cross-examinations of government witnesses before leading off its own case with former Department of Child Services Director James W. Payne, a long-time juvenile judge in Marion County.

Payne told the jury that Venture Real Estate Services, Bales' and Spencer's company, did a good job for DCS, delivering on a promise to find office space in Elkhart better suited for the agency's staff and children they serve.

"I thought it was a vast improvement," Payne said of the Elkhart office. "It was spacious and met our needs. It was an inviting and warm environment."

On cross examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jesse Barrett noted that Payne did not oversee Venture's contract with the state (that responsibility fell to the Indiana Department of Administration), and Payne never inquired about the ownership arrangement for the Elkhart building.

Prosecutors say Bales and Spencer provided the down payment so Indianapolis attorney Paul J. Page could buy the property to lease to the DCS, without disclosing its involvement to the state or a bank. The government says the deal violates an agreement between Venture and the state that barred the company from direct or indirect ownership of properties where state agencies leased space, but the defense argues the arrangement was a loan.

The government took about five days to present its case after the proceedings began with jury selection on Jan. 28. Defense attorneys for each of the defendants will get about one hour for closing arguments, and the government is scheduled for an hour and a half to wrap up its case before the jury gets its instructions and begins deliberations.

The second defense witness Tuesday was Adam Gilliatte, a construction contractor and developer who intended to buy the Elkhart building and serve as landlord for DCS before he "got exhausted" waiting for the state to execute a lease and opted out of the deal.

Indianapolis developer Paul Kite also considered buying the Elkhart building, he testified Tuesday, but decided against becoming a state landlord.

Defense attorneys asked both Gilliatte and Kite whether Bales or Spencer had proposed Venture act as a partner or shadow investor in their deals, and both men said no.

The most time-consuming testimony Tuesday came from Marion Siara, a retired special agent for the Internal Revenue Service hired by the defense to review financial records in the case.

The defense introduced exhibits prepared by Siara, including one showing withdrawals by Page on the bank account of L&BAB LLC, the entity that owns the building. Page had been a co-defendant with Bales and Spencer until he accepted a plea deal in January.

Siara said his research uncovered transfers of $58,300 to Page personally and another $93,700 paid out to family members and associates, including $50,000 for Page's defense attorney, Robert Hammerle, who represented him in plea negotiations with the government.

The Elkhart building is and always was a losing deal for Bales and Spencer, Siara said. His estimates showed that if the building sold for $1.65 million as the defendants estimated in 2009, proceeds needed to pay off the bank loan and Venture investment would leave a $25,000 deficit, not a profit for Venture to split with Page as originally pondered.

The government has introduced emails that indicate Bales and Spencer expected to profit from the deal.

In another exhibit, Siara claimed Venture actually overpaid the state on the Elkhart lease commission refund since the value of the 10-year deal was higher than Venture had calculated. (Venture was required to remit 25 percent of its 4-percent commission on lease deals for the state to a discretionary project fund for the state's benefit.)

Barrett saved his toughest cross-examination of the trial for Siara, needling him when he acknowledged using Google to flesh out an exhibit showing where Page directed money from his L&BAB bank account.

Barrett also pressed the former IRS agent for his exhibit claiming the state had been overpaid on the Elkhart deal. The exhibit showed an adjusted amount due to Venture while keeping the total commission amount the same, resulting in a lower payment due to the state.

Siara said he was hired by the defense team in December 2012, a late date for a fast-approaching trial, and did not know whether another financial analyst had worked on the case for the defense before he came onboard.

Other defense witnesses: Ed Scahill, a Huntington Bank commercial loan officer who said he was "quite surprised" to learn in October 2009 there was a second mortgage on the Elkhart building, but took no action since the loan was performing; and David Nugent, a commercial real estate broker based in Fort Wayne, who explained the concept of a "shared-appreciation loan," which the defense says describes the Elkhart deal.

"It's a loan, it's a mortgage, that's it," Nugent said. "It's not ownership."

On cross-examination, Barrett read Nugent portions of the code of ethics for the National Association of Realtors, which appeared to contradict Nugent's claim that brokers can represent multiple parties at once on a deal.

Barrett said the code makes clear that brokers may not accept payment from multiple parties without disclosure; Nugent contended that a broker can be paid a sale commission, lease commission and development fee on a building because each of those transactions is separate.

The final witness for the defense was Caroline Karanja Smith, a former Venture employee who worked on the DCS office rollout. She testified Wednesday morning that the state officials overseeing her, including leasing director Steve Harless, were satisfied with Venture's work.

The defense introduced an email Harless sent to Smith and another Venture employee: "Without their constant support we would be screwed," Harless wrote. "Good luck and God Bless America!!"

Defense attorney Jason Barclay also asked Smith, who handled property management for the Elkhart building, to describe her interactions with Page. She said he was hard to pin down.

She agreed with Barclay when he asked whether it was a "fair assessment" to call Page "lazy."

To catch up on IBJ's coverage of the trial and Elkhart lease deal, click here. The IBJ is a sister publication of Indiana Lawyer.
 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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