Chris Olwell, Paname City News-Herald
The grand jury indicted Maurice Bates for wire fraud in the nick of time, enabling a trial jury Wednesday to find him guilty of defrauding lenders out of more than $1 million.
The indictment was filed Dec. 6, 2011, only seven days before the statute of limitations would’ve expired. Judge Richard Smoak ruled Wednesday that a check that was cashed on Dec. 13, 2006 constituted the final act of a conspiracy to commit wire fraud after Bates’ attorney, Tonya Higgins, rested her case without calling a single witness and asked Smoak to dismiss the charge.
Higgins argued the conspiracy between Bates and four others, who all pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors, ended when the scheme ended, several months before the check was cashed, but Smoak agreed with Assistant U.S. Attorney Gayle Littleton’s assertion the payment to the title company that helped facilitate the equity skim scam that put Bates and his wife in Mercedes-Benzes and Porsches was part of the conspiracy.
The check was finally cashed more than six months after it was written, six months after auditors shut down Blue Dolphin Title Company. It was pulled from storage when investigators came looking for the company’s records, Bates said as he waited for the jury to decide his fate Wednesday afternoon.
While he waited, Bates claimed he was a patsy, duped by his co-conspirators, namely his attorney Jill Newman, who testified earlier in his trial that she never told him that what they were doing could land them all in jail. But in the next breath, Newman insisted, “Mr. Bates knew exactly what he was doing.”
The jury agreed and found Bates guilty after less than an hour of deliberation. The case hinged on the question of whether or not he knowingly participated in a scheme to defraud lenders. The fact that the conspiracy and fraud occurred was never disputed.
Linda Bates said her husband hired Newman because he wasn’t an expert on real estate deals. Her husband trusted Newman to advise him on what he could and couldn’t do, and that trust was misplaced, she said.