HIGHLAND — It's clear, just from the words he uses, that the line has been drawn in the sand.
This is a battle. A fight. This is the government versus the businessman. And while Claud "Rick" Koerber, 36, thinks it's quite a compelling story, he said it would be more interesting if this conflict weren't also his life.
Though he has been accused by the government of running a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors of $100 million, Koerber is undeterred. He's not repentant because he says he's not guilty. He believes in the money he made and the company he built. He intends to fight the battle and emerge victorious.
"The rules of the justice system are that you can fight," he said. "It's the fundamental thing that makes a free society more attractive. Just because the government accuses you, it doesn't mean it's true. I'm proud of my business. I'm proud of what we did. I think that what we did was amazing."
Koerber made a name for himself as the "Free Capitalist," a radio personality who leans Libertarian politically, is objectivist in his philosophy and capitalist when it comes to economy. Wednesday, he relaunched his Free Capitalist Project, which involves the continuation of his radio show, features an updated Free Capitalist Web site and another site of Koerber's personal blog.
More than anything, he said he is someone who believes in responsible, accountable citizens who turn to themselves — not their government — for solutions. Even in the face of their failures. And that is what the Free Capitalist is about.
Koerber said people were once allowed to go out on a limb, say, make a business investment and fail. But they now look for a place to point the blame, and quite a few fingers are pointing his way.
Koerber was hit with a three-count indictment in May 2009 charging him with mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion. In November, a grand jury handed down a new indictment that includes a total of 22 counts and additional charges of fraud in the offer and sale of securities, sale of unregistered securities, money laundering, and additional counts of both wire fraud and tax evasion.
If convicted of every count, he faces a maximum of 285 years in prison — more than someone might receive even for killing someone, Koerber pointed out.
The business ventures, he said, were always a side project. Prosecutors believe he solicited investors and then encouraged them to "act and think like a bank." The groups of investors were supposed to recruit other investors, all under Koerber's assurance that their investments were "backed, collateralized or secured by real property," the indictment against him states.
Koerber was involved with several businesses in Utah, including Founders Capital, Franklin Squires Investments and Franklin Squires Companies. Prosecutors say Koerber operated a Ponzi scheme to make it appear as though these companies were turning a profit to secure more investors, yet "at no time during the operation of the scheme did the Founders Capital or Franklin Squires … turn a profit."
Koerber said the term "Ponzi scheme" was used by a government looking to depict the issue with a "big, broad brush." He insists it wasn't a Ponzi scheme at all. He says his business took the same hits most other businesses did in the current economic downturn, yet his business was also affected by what he believes were lies spread by the government.
A moviemaking venture that, according to the indictment, cost about $5 million wasn't a failed project, Koerber said, merely one that hasn't seen completion. He said they're still hoping the movie will be bought and marketed.
He believes the company would have gained back what it lost, if not for the disruption and controversy caused by the indictment.
"We never would have stopped," he said. "We would have survived but for the government's reaction. You can't survive both the economic collapse and the government saying you're a fraud, a schemer."
Koerber said he never would have taken a hiatus from his Free Capitalist project, either, but he spent 2009 dealing with "this new problem" and sorting through his priorities. He chose his own attorney and underwent a divorce in November. He is now remarried and has custody of the couple's three children, though he and his first wife remain good friends and she sees the children often.
Koerber is not prohibited by the terms of his pretrial release from starting or heading up any business ventures. Within those terms, the judge ordered that Koerber actively seek employment, appear at all court hearings relevant to his case and that he not violate any federal or state laws. Melodie Rydalch, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said her office could not comment on Koerber as the case is still pending in federal court.
As soon as he had the time, Koerber returned to the project and is determined to carry it on. In the meantime, he is certain that, when it comes to the charges against him, the truth will win out.
"The story you tell over time is going to change. There's really no way to see an indictment as a positive. I got indicted. That sucks, but time is on the side of truth. Everyone has an interest in seeing what happens."
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