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Utah Washakie Renewable Energy case underway

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Posted: Tuesday, January 28, 2020. 8:16 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Salt Lake Tribune has provided a primer on the now-ongoing Washakie Renewable Energy case in the U.S. District Court in Utah, which is moving into opening arguments after jury selection on Monday.

The Tribune says the case is about “a Utah polygamous sect, bribery, and how proceeds of a $511 million biofuel fraud were laundered into ritzy homes, expensive cars and Turkish industries.”

Four members of the Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the polygamous Kingston Group or “The Order,” pleaded guilty last year and are expected to testify against the sole remaining defendant, Lev Aslan Dermen who has maintained his innocence.

For Belizeans, the trial is of interest, explains the Tribune, “…to hear how an official [in Belize] might have been bribed.”

Text and WhatsApp messages appear to link Dermen and co-defendant Jacob Kingston to Minister of National Security and candidate for leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP), John Saldivar, who denies wrongdoing. It is alleged that an official from Belize monthly payments from Dermen, sometimes through Kingston, while another received a one-time payment.

Federal agents charged Dermen, formerly Levon Termendzhyan, with 10 counts: one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and eight counts of money laundering. He faces up to 180 years in prison.

The current charges concern Dermen and Washakie Chief Executive Officer Jacob Kingston defrauding a U.S. biofuel program to the tune of US $511 million, claiming they purchased biofuel for a tax credit while faking that they made biodiesel from cornstalks, cooking grease and other organics, the four defendants who pleaded guilty admit they were buying biofuel from elsewhere. Prosecutors allege Dermen bought biofuel from Washakie at below-market rates and sold it at his gas stations, but also told Kingston where to buy biodiesel and how to transport it. Prosecutors also plan to show evidence Dermen told Kingston to launder the money by buying homes and cars for each and by sending money to businesses and accounts in Turkey, Luxembourg and Belize and bribing officials in the United States and Belize, according to the Tribune.

Dermen’s defense team is led by L.A. “celebrity” attorney Mark Geragos, who has represented music stars Michael Jackson and Chris Brown, actors Winona Ryder and Jussie Smollett, and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick; Linda Moreno, who also has represented celebrities, including actor Wesley Snipes, and terrorism suspects; Setara Qassim, who has worked with Geragos for years, and Jon Williams in Salt Lake City.

The Department of Justice prosecutors come from a Washington, D.C., unit focused on tax crimes.

The trial is tentatively set to last until March 12.

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