Was Lightbody in or was he out?
Jury must decide whether backdated documents were real or bogus
JURORS IN THE FEDERAL conspiracy trial of three men involved in the sale of the Everett land for a Wynn casino began deliberations Thursday with both prosecutors and defense attorneys in agreement on the core question.
“This really is a simple case,” Assistant US Attorney Kristina Barclay said during her closing argument. “Was Charlie Lightbody in or was he out?”
But from there, jurors will have to wade through hundreds of documents and hours of wire-tapped phone calls to figure out if Lightbody’s ownership and his criminal background was being hidden so it wouldn’t sink the sale and with it the potential commercial casino license or if his one-time partners had bought him out before the transfer of the contaminated parcel.
The jurors got the case on the 13th day of the trial in US District Court. Lightbody, Dustin DeNunzio, and Anthony Gattineri are charged with conspiracy and wire fraud by backdating “bogus” documents showing Gattineri purchased Lightbody’s share.
Barclay played excerpts from intercepted calls and displayed emails that included Lightbody to prove he never left FBT Everett LLC as a partner.
“They thought they could outsmart Wynn Resorts and the [Massachusetts] Gaming Commission,” Barclay told jurors. “No way that a guy like Charlie Lightbody was going to walk away from a $75 million deal.”
But Joshua Levy, Denunzio’s attorney, tried to pick apart the prosecution’s case using 12 points that he said raised reasonable doubt about the strength of the evidence. As the defense claimed throughout the trial, the partnership knew that Lightbody’s presence could be problematic but they worked to remove him, with his assent, before the agreement with Wynn and prior to the beginning of the casino license application process. Levy said prosecutors “absolutely failed” to show the trio tried to defraud Wynn because the state’s gaming law only addresses criminal records in relation to casino operators, not land sellers.
“Nobody who got on that stand told you a felon who sells his land and has nothing to do with the casino operation can profit from the sale,” he said.
Levy said he made a chart to connect all the evidence prosecutors had to demonstrate how the scheme occurred – then put a blank poster board on an easel.
“We couldn’t wait to get this case into your hands because they’ve fallen so far short of their burden,” Levy said. “You can’t guess your way to a conviction, you can’t guess your way to reasonable doubt.”
Levy lambasted prosecutors for playing taped jailhouse calls between Lightbody and reputed mobster Darin Bufalino that were filled with expletives and then bringing up an unrelated deal involving Lightbody and DeNunzio in a transaction involving the notorious Chelsea strip club, King Arthur’s.
Charles Rankin, the lead attorney for Lightbody, admitted his client has a “checkered past,” but said his criminal history fell well short of the organized crime figure prosecutors wanted jurors to see. Rankin had shown jurors Lightbody’s criminal record, which included three assaults from the early 1980s, an assault with a dangerous weapon, and a conviction for identity theft. He said all were low-level crimes that mostly ended with short jail stints, fines, or probation.
Rankin urged jurors to see through prosecution attempts to use the taped calls to paint his client as a mobster instead of someone who was just a “big talker.”
“The government’s theory is something like a Hollywood movie about Las Vegas in the 1950s,” Rankin said. “It’s Godfather Part 6. Charlie Lightbody is not Marlon Brando. Charlie is a colorful character, he uses colorful language.”
Gattineri’s attorney, Michael Connolly, said the players made everything was done through the partnership’s attorney, Paul Feldman, and they leaned on his advice in drawing up the paperwork. He reminded jurors that Feldman informed Wynn’s attorney, Daniel Gaquin of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo about the move to buy Lightbody out, indicating there was no attempt to hide Lightbody.
He also pointed out that the majority partner, Paul Lohnes, who sat in on the discussion with Feldman to formalize Lightbody’s removal, was never called by prosecutors, hinting his testimony would have provided proof that nothing nefarious occurred in the lawyer’s office and documents that had been signed and later backdated were merely showing the dates when the agreement was reached, not necessarily when it was signed. He said that was common practice in business and real estate law.
But Assistant US Attorney S. Theodore Merritt dismissed the involvement of high-priced, high-powered lawyers being proof of innocence.“They have a pretty high opinion of lawyers,” Merritt said of the defense attorneys. “I don’t know if you share that opinion.”
Jurors deliberated about 2½ hours before adjourning for the day and will resume Friday morning.