Alpine businessman cleared of fraud charges says case against him never should have been filed
Stuart Johnson, Deseret News Archives
SALT LAKE CITY — After five years fighting charges that he bilked investors of $100 million, Claud R. "Rick" Koerber has a lot to say.
The Alpine businessman accused of operating one of Utah's largest Ponzi schemes was indicted in 2009 with mail fraud, wire fraud, fraud in the offer and sale of securities, sale of unregistered securities, money laundering and tax evasion.
The long-running case was dismissed Thursday without ever going before a jury due to what a judge called a "pattern of widespread and continuous misconduct" and violations of the Speedy Trial Act.
Koerber says the case wasn't closed on a technicality, and he believes it never should have been prosecuted.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said Friday the possibility of appeal is being considered but no decisions have been made.
Koerber, decked in his signature cowboy hat, stood with his wife, six of his eight children and a group of friends for a news conference at a downtown hotel Friday, breaking his silence about the case.
Koerber maintained as he has since the beginning that he defrauded no one but ran a profitable business and was singled out by bureaucrats angered by his radio show, "The Free Capitalist."
"I said five years ago that the indictment was absurd and the allegations were false. The court's decision yesterday vindicated that statement," Koerber said.
"It is absurd to anyone who looks at the records to call this business a Ponzi scheme," he said.
"Are there areas where we could have done better? You bet," Koerber acknowledged.
Koerber's company, a real estate investment firm, crashed in 2008, four years after it began, leaving him owing investors upward of $30 million. Koerber said he isn't concerned about the possibility of civil lawsuits from jilted investors, and in the time since his indictment he "hasn't heard in years" of anyone who is unhappy with him.
"In large measure, the people I did business with were grown men and women who knew what we were doing," he said. "We took some risks. We made some, and we lost some. By far the majority of the people who did business with me walked away profitable."
In regards to his own financial standing, Koerber didn't elaborate, saying only "things are different" than they were a few years ago.
Koerber was especially critical of Francine Giani, director of Utah's Department of Commerce, who initiated the investigation into his business dealings. Koerber accused Giani of misconduct and defamation, including parading empty boxes purportedly full of evidence in front of reporters.
"Five years later, it is now beyond dispute that Ms. Giani lied when she claimed there was a mountain of evidence that she turned over to prosecutors," Koerber said.
Giani issued a statement Friday saying she would not respond to Koerber's allegations but that she is "shocked and astounded" by U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups' decision to toss the case.
"After all these years of waiting, I am appalled that a federal prosecutor with such a strong reputation can get outmaneuvered by committing malfeasance and being unable to count to 70," Giani said. "Given the handling of this important case, I do not anticipate the Department of Commerce ever referring cases to federal prosecutors again.
"More than anything, I am disappointed the many victims involved in this massive fraud did not receive justice. It is sad to see our jails so full of petty criminals while someone who stole people's retirement savings, homes and futures walks free."
Acting U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen responded to Giani's comments late Friday.
"We share Ms. Giani's disappointment with the dismissal of a case that impacts so many victims. We strongly disagree, however, with her comments concerning the competence and integrity of the prosecutors in this case and regret that she was not better informed about the case before making her public comments," Christensen said.
Moving forward, Koerber and his attorney say they will be looking into options for seeking legal recourse.
"The government and those who knowingly assisted in this false charade and illicit prosecution should be required to pay, especially to those good people who lost money only because the government wanted to score some political victory," Koerber said.
He didn't deny the possibility of future investment businesses, and he plans to evaluate what pieces can be picked up from his past companies. For now, Koerber is using his newfound legal experience working as a court clerk and paralegal, and considering what will now happen with his pet project, "The Free Capitalist."
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