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franklin county times

No verdict yet in trial

By By Suzanne Monk/The Meridian Star
April 13, 2001
The jurors in the "Comcast trial" deliberated until 5:45 p.m. Thursday before telling U.S. District Judge Tom Lee they wanted to go home and tackle it afresh this morning.
The six-man, six-woman jury was scheduled to resume its deliberations at 8:30 a.m.
The four defendants in the trial have been indicted as co-conspirators in a money-laundering scheme to defraud Comcast of $2.6 million between January 1994 and August 1996.
A fifth defendant, David Van Colvin, has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. Prosecutors say Colvin, former regional manager of Comcast-Primestar, 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.
Closing arguments began at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Assistant U.S. Attorney Harold Brittain was the first to speak, followed by the three defense attorneys. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Anderson spoke last, finishing at 1:30 p.m.
Brittain's arguments
Assistant U.S. Attorney Harold Brittain outlined how the alleged money-laundering conspiracy worked: 1) Gianakos and Graham submit false bills to Comcast; 2) Gianakos mails payment to American Express; 3) American Express deposits made to Raley's account, or checks delivered; and 4) Newell, Raley and Colvin take money from Raley's account.
Remove any element, he said, and the scheme falls apart.
Brittain said the the notion that the defendants in this case were unknowingly manipulated by Colvin is not believable.
Brittain said the scheme began to fall apart when Gianakos accountant Rebecca Cooper starting asking questions. It ended with an anonymous letter written, the jury learned last week, by accountant Michael Crosby.
Defense arguments
All three defense attorneys argued that their clients did not know that Colvin was using them to defraud Comcast.
Attorney Frank Trapp represents Gianakos.
He added that Colvin also deceived Comcast's management including senior executive Glenn Colvin and chief financial officer Bill Kyles.
Attorney Charlie Wright represents Graham.
Wright asked the jury to consider how little evidence the government's attorneys had presented against Graham. Of 66 witnesses, he said, only three testified about his client.
Graham said he operated in good faith .
As he did earlier in the trial, Wright drew a parallel between Graham's company and Bruister and Associates, which had a contract during the same time to install satellite dishes for Comcast-Primestar.
Wright said Bruister billed Comcast for $433,000 using the same "billing practices" as Graham who billed $315,000 during the same period. Bruister has not been charged with a crime.
Finally, Wright said Comcast did not follow its own procedures to ensure against theft and referred to an annual report published by Comcast called "Running a Tight Ship."
Attorney Henry Palmer represents Raley and Newell.
Palmer said to convict Raley, the jury would have to believe he knew Colvin was defrauding Comcast.
Palmer said Colvin accused Newell hoping for a lighter sentence for himself.
Anderson's arguments
Anderson thundered back at defense attorneys' remarks about people who are not are trial in this case.
Anderson's earlier objections along these lines had been sustained by Judge Lee.
Anderson said Gianakos submitted more than 500 false invoices during the period covered by the indictment. They were false, he said, because they billed Comcast for services the company did not receive. He said defense arguments about Colvin's authority to set policy and issue instructions do not hold up.
He also echoed the defense's request that jurors divorce themselves from the sterile world of the courtroom and put themselves in the "real world" when considering their verdict.
He pointed out that none of the defendants ever asked Comcast management about the "billing practices" requested by Colvin. He said they were "willfully blind" in order to continue profiting from the arrangement.
If convicted, the defendants face sentences of up to 20 years for each count of money-laundering, and up to five years on other counts listed in the indictment.
Suzanne Monk is managing editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail her at smonk@meridianstar.com