"I feel good about it. Gary's been a good friend and everyone makes mistakes."
That comment on the acquittal of J. Gary Sheets may seem surprisingly mild from a man who lost $130,000 in two of the Sheets' companies investments. But it seems typical of some of the investors, who genuinely like Sheets.In fact, some witnesses for the prosecution, including one of the Osmond family members, waved at Sheets when they entered the courtroom of U.S. District Judge David Sam. And Sheets shyly waved back.
Dr. Howard S. Spurrier, a Salt Lake orthodontist, is the man who lost $130,000 in two of the investments sold by Sheets' company, J. Gary Sheets and Associates. He was relieved that Sheets was found not guilty of all 34 counts against him.
When the jury returned at 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Sheets looked downward the entire time the verdict was read. It exonerated him of fraud, embezzlement from pension plans and interstate transportation of money obtained by fraud.
Afterward, he slapped his lawyers on the back and shook their hands, praising them.
Sheets said he thanked God and added that he had felt at peace the last couple of days. At times he had tears in his eyes. Later, the grateful Sheets hugged spectators.
Spurrier, who lost the money in the Working Fund and Arrowhead investment plans, was asked how he felt when he was called to testify for the prosecution in his friend's trial.
"I felt very bad having to do that, but that's the way it is. It didn't hurt and didn't help, probably."
He has known Sheets for 25 years and believes the best word to describe him is "optimist."
"Gary always thinks everything's going to be fine - even almost to the point of being a pathological optimist," Spurrier said. "But he's got a good heart."
That was a point the defense took pains to drive home - that Sheets did not believe his companies would fail. Therefore, he didn't think the investors would lose. So he had no fraudulent intent.
Asked if he harbored any bad feelings toward Sheets, Spurrier said, "Heavens no. I wish him the best and I hope he can fix things up and do well. I feel good about it (the verdict)."
Sheets may have made some serious mistakes but had no fraudulent intentions, he said.
During the trial, some Utahns who know Sheets personally agreed with that assessment. They privately expressed their belief that he didn't intend to defraud anyone.
Spurrier said of the acquittal, "I think it's a great thing for the family, and I don't see that any useful service would have been served by having him go to jail."
This was the first major full-blown fraud prosecution in recent years that the government has lost.
In the six and a half weeks since the jury was seated, the panel received hundreds of pages of documents as evidence and heard around 85 witnesses - more than two-thirds of whom testified for the prosecution.
Allyn J. Orme, who had been an employee of the pension company partly owned by Sheets and was called to the witness stand by the defense, said, "I never could figure out why I was a witness anyway."
He said he wasn't sure what the government's case was.
Orme testified that clients - including members of the Osmond family - signed up with the Pension Co. Then money from their pensions would be placed into investments.
Asked for his reaction to Sheets' acquittal, Orme said, "Well, I'm kind of ambivalent."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stewart C. Walz, one of the two prosecutors, said, "The jury has spoken. Apparently they felt we didn't prove our case, at least beyond a reasonable doubt.
"We were a little bit surprised by the verdict because we thought we had put on a good case and felt that there was a good chance that they would convict, at least on some of the counts."
Dr. John W. Emmett, a Logan radiologist who lost money in the investments, was philosophical after the verdict.
Asked how much money he lost, he said, "I don't really know. More than I care to."
Emmett added of Sheets, "He's been through the system and the jury was entitled to their opinion. That's the way our system works. He's had his day in court . . . He knows what the circumstances were, and I guess that's it."