Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2020. 1:43 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: Opening arguments are ongoing in the trial of Armenian-American investor and accused fraudster Lev Dermen, but its highlight, at least for Belizeans, will be the testimony of former partner Jacob Kingston.
Kingston, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, has pleaded guilty to 43 criminal counts and admitted he was buying biofuel and submitting falsified papers to claim the tax credit. His brother, Isaiah Kingston, also pleaded guilty to crimes. The brothers were both on a witness list read to potential jurors Monday. They are to testify in exchange for lesser sentences.
Kingston’s testimony, expected to begin sometime next week after the court in Salt Lake City, Utah, hears from federal agents, will include how Saldivar, who has denied wrongdoing, was allegedly bribed. “According to documents released before the trial and discussion from lawyers during a January 13 hearing, Jacob Kingston will testify Dermen was making cash payments to Saldivar and that Jacob Kingston later took over making those payments,” the Tribune reported this afternoon.
Saldivar faces fellow Minister Patrick Faber for a place as leader of the United Democratic Party on February 9, but also faces calls for his firing or resignation, and for an investigation to be commenced.
The wider trial concerns Washakie Renewable Energy’s multi-million dollar fraud.
Washakie applied for $1.1 billion of tax credits for biofuel it never produced but imported, but the U.S. Treasury Department approved a payout of $470 million, Goemaat explained. That is the amount Washakie and Dermen are accused of stealing. Documents filed earlier in the case placed the theft at $511 million.
In her opening arguments, federal prosecutor Leslie Goemaat told the jury selected earlier this week that while his name is not on any of the fraudulent biofuel applications to the U.S. government, the alleged scheme accelerated to more than a billion dollars in false claims when Dermen and Kingston met. Goemaat said the man formerly known as Levon Termendzhyan promised Kingston the same kind of protection from law enforcement that he personally enjoyed his entire life.
Goemaat said $45 million in fraud proceeds went to The Order; IRS agents have been able to trace $72 million that went to Dermen or six of his companies, according to the Tribune. Millions were sent to Turkey and spent on various valuables including cars and houses in Utah and California.
The defence was scheduled to give its opening arguments later today, Thursday. In pre-trial hearings, attorney Mark Geragos has argued all the evidence points to Jacob Kingston as committing fraud and laundering the money, and that evidence against Dermen is hearsay.
Fifty-three-year-old Dermen is charged 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.
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