VERO BEACH — During the morning session before a jury of six plus four alternates, prosecution and defense attorneys laid out the framework of how they plan to sway jurors to decide whether or not former attorney Ira C. Hatch is guilty of the 46 charges brought before the court.
Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans presented a linear, bullet-pointed argument which laid out the various “plans” Hatch allegedly had for funding his business and personal financial needs, while attempting to keep enough money in the bank account of Coastal Escrow Services Inc. to pay out money due to depositors for closings and refunds of rental deposits.
The prosecution estimates that more than $4 million was missing when Hatch closed the doors of Coastal Escrow Services on Labor Day 2007.
“This is a case about greed and fraud,” Evans said.
Evans illustrated via a Powerpoint presentation how funds were deposited into Coastal Escrow Services and allegedly transferred out to the law firm of Hatch & Doty and then replaced by funds from new depositors to keep the cash flowing in and out.
This “ponzi scheme” as he called it, finally caught up with Hatch in Sept. 2007 when there was no money left in the accounts and Hatch was forced to shut the doors and send his clients and depositors letters saying that the business had failed.
In addition to the thefts, Evans laid out a pattern of alleged cover ups in which Hatch tried to hide the transfers and taking of money.
Defense attorney Gregory Eisenmenger objected to the prosecution’s characterization of Hatch’s actions as a “cover up” and, because the jury had already heard that information, Eisenmenger asked for a mistrial.
The jury was removed from the courtroom while this legal maneuvering and arguments for and against the mistrial were going on. Ultimately, Senior Judge James Midelis denied the motion and the proceedings resumed.
When it was the defense’s turn, Eisenmenger went in with the strategy not of denying that millions of dollars evaporated, but by trying to place doubt in the minds of the jurors.
He said that Hatch did transfer money between the various accounts and companies, but that it was only for legitimate purposes, most of it to pay for legitimately billed legal fees and fees for services performed by the law firm of Hatch & Doty for Coastal Escrow Services.
“There is no evidence that Mr. Hatch transferred any money that he had not earned,” Eisenmenger said.
He also said that Hatch had signed some blank checks and was “not in the county” on the dates those checks were hand written.
Finally, he described Hatch’s involvement in the business during the latter part of the four-year time period of 2003 to 2007, which is in question. He said that Hatch was preoccupied with a real estate venture in Orlando and that Hatch had even taken up residence there to devote his time to that project.
To further tear down the state’s case, Eisenmenger criticized the manner that the evidence was collected and investigated and said that the prosecution had not commissioned a complete forensic audit of the financial records, which would have tracked the “money trail.”
Eisenmenger also made statements inferring that Hatch’s former partner, Kevin Doty, held onto property, including computers which may have contained vital evidence.
The court resumed at 1 p.m. with the initial witnesses beginning to be called. Potential witnesses have been placed under an order of sequestration, meaning that they cannot be in the courtroom unless they are providing testimony and that they are barred from talking to anyone except the attorneys about the case or about their testimony in the case.
Hatch, 62, is accused of 46 criminal counts of mishandling and/or stealing up to $4.5 million from the clients of his law firm, Hatch & Doty and his company, Coastal Escrow Services Inc. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.