FORT PIERCE — A jury deliberated for more than four hours Wednesday and will return today to mull the fate of two men accused of orchestrating a complex scheme that prosecutors say defrauded elderly investors out of millions of dollars.
The jurors will meet at the federal courthouse at 9:30 a.m. to resume deliberations in the trial for Leonard Bogdan Jr. and John Brant, who investigators say created a so-called Ponzi scheme between 1998 and January 2001 that took more than $16 million from mostly retired investors. Some of those retirees say they lost their life savings when they invested in the Bogdan Financial Group or several other related companies.
"The reason we are here today is because the investors who gave close to $17 million, at the end of the day, had nothing to show for it," Assistant U.S. Attorney Diana Acosta said Wednesday morning during her closing argument. "The picture all this paints is: This company and these two defendants would do anything, and did do anything, to get this money."
Prosecutors say Bogdan and Brant knew they were defrauding clients, mainly by diverting investors' money elsewhere and paying principal payments and interest with money from new investors. They needed to recruit new investors aggressively to keep pumping money into the scheme, Acosta said.
Bogdan and Brant's attorneys, however, told the jury that their clients never intended to scam anyone.
Ronald Chapman, who represents Bogdan, argued that the case belonged in civil court, not criminal. Bogdan was a bad manager, who did not properly supervise an inept employee who worked with the investors, he said.
"This was never an intent to defraud. There was never a conspiracy," Chapman argued. "It was just a botched corporation. It was because of carelessness. It was because of negligence. Find him not guilty, and tell the investors to go sue him in civil court."
Ian Goldstein, Brant's attorney, argued that his client was never part of a conspiracy.
Prosecutors were asking the jury to convict him based only on "guilt by association," Goldstein said.
Brant was in charge of locating and fixing investment properties and had nothing to do with the investors, he said.
"Most investors didn't even know who John Brant was," Goldstein said.
Acosta countered that Brant was listed as a vice president in some of Bogdan's companies, and the pair represented themselves as partners.
The jury must decide whether Bogdan is guilty of one count of conspiracy, 10 counts of fraud and five counts of money laundering. Brant is charged with one count of conspiracy and 10 counts of fraud.
The jurors listened to nearly two weeks of testimony in the trial. Prosecutors allege that, beginning in 1998, Bogdan pitched a residential mortgage program in which people invested money to pay for what was supposed to be a secured first mortgage, but many of the investments were not secured and several investors were placed on each home.
Investors also were encouraged to transfer money into other programs, and prosecutors say they were "fraudulently lulled" into thinking their investments were earning returns, but that money was really coming from new investors' funds.
"The conspiracy was to defraud these elderly people of their money. When the money started flowing in, that's when the greed took over," Acosta said. "Now, it's about accountability."