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Defendant's Testimony Delayed in Navy Veterans Assoc. Fraud Trial

The testimony of a man accused of running an allegedly fraudulent Tampa charity called has been delayed due to the birth of his defense attorney's child . The 66-year-old defendant has been charged with theft, fraud and money laundering because, prosecutors claim, little of the $100 million raised over 8 years by the U.S. Navy Veterans Association was actually used to assist veterans. The trial should resume next week.

Evidence has been presented of a number of apparent financial irregularities and suspicious behavior by the defendant. Interestingly, however, while prosecutors say the defendant used the charity's money for personal purposes, it's not clear what evidence they have to back up that claim.

Prosecutors must show beyond a reasonable doubt that donations to the Navy Veterans Association never made it to the veterans. According to the Tampa Bay Times, however, the trial's main focus has been on the defendant's suspicious past.

Witnesses have said the charity's board of directors didn't seem to include any real people, and that its registered office was a post office box. The owner of a fundraising telemarketer testified that its agreement with Navy Veterans allowed it to keep 90 percent of what it raised on behalf of the charity, which may indicate fraud. The defendant says he used the rest legitimately as cash assistance to homeless veterans without bank accounts, among other purposes.

Prosecutors have concentrated their attention on the defendant's alleged use of false identities. The defendant claims to be a former CIA agent and U.S. Army intelligence officer who attended law school at Harvard and continued working for the CIA for some time. The charity's former lawyer testified that he told her the group was funded by the CIA which, true or false, the CIA would disavow. He has acknowledged using a fake name while running the charity in Tampa.

It's a fascinating case, and certainly unusual in its inclusion of alleged aliases and CIA ties. That said, it's important to remember that apparently suspicious behavior by the ordinary defendant is not enough to prove financial fraud. In fact, the so-called evidence in many cases of alleged fraud and white collar crimes turns out to be the result of poor accounting practices or an innocent failure to comply with complex legal requirements.


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