Library Trial: Attorneys Dispute Significance of ‘Suspicious Timing’

A closing argument made by U.S. attorneys in a bribery and conspiracy case against former Public Finance Authority Director Julito Francis, Balbo Construction Co. owner Gerard Castor and Jaredian Design Group co-principal John Woods proposed that the timing of certain actions taken by the three defendants between 2008 and 2014 is sufficient proof of a corrupt agreement.

Attorneys for Castor and Francis said in their own closing arguments that the government’s case lacks concrete evidence of any criminal act and relies too heavily on what they claimed is an essentially meaningless timeline.

Woods’ attorney Treston Moore, will deliver the trial’s final closing argument Friday morning, followed by a brief rebuttal by the government.

A team of prosecutors lead by Justin Weitz again presented a timeline of the defendants’ actions Thursday, which it characterized as a highly-incriminating chain of events.

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In late August 2008, a meeting was held at the office of the PFA at which a bid evaluation committee deliberated over which of six companies should be awarded the contract for the construction of the new Charles W. Turnbull Library. The committee unanimously decided on Balbo Construction Co.

Just over a week later, Balbo followed up on a January proposal and began work on the residence of Francis, who was the PFA director at the time but not a member of the aforementioned committee. More than $400,000 worth of work was done at Francis’s residence over the course of two years. Prosecutors say there was no written contract for the labor or materials because the work was meant to be a bribe.

On Nov. 8 of that year the Turnbull library contract was executed. At that time Balbo was also working on a driveway at the property of Woods, whose architectural firm had the design and engineering contract for the library and was involved in making recommendations for the construction job.

As in the case of renovations done at Francis’s residence, the job Balbo undertook on Woods’ property at first had no written contract or payment plan.

It wasn’t until 2010 that a written agreement between Woods and Castor was formalized, prosecutors said. In the agreement, Woods agreed to pay $15,000 for the work done at his property by Balbo, work that was estimated by expert testimony at the trial to be of a much higher value. Only two payments, amounting to $4,000, were made by Woods over the following two years.

Prosecutors said it is significant that Woods and Castor later memorialized a second agreement, one involving a barter exchange, shortly after the indictment of former Sen. Alvin Williams on bribery charges in 2012.

That agreement purported to pay Balbo in the form of Jaredian design plans for an office building that the government argues Balbo never intended to build. The plans were not completed and given to Balbo until 2014, well after Castor and Woods were already being investigated. Prosecutors allege the agreement was an attempt to cover up the greatly discounted work that occurred at Woods’ property years earlier.

The government also suggested that Francis and Castor were similarly rattled by the actions of law enforcement in 2013 when Castor was interviewed by federal agents. Five days later Castor began sending bills to Francis for the work done at his house years earlier.

Attorney Robert King, representing Francis, said in his closing argument Thursday that the timeline presented by the government was “long on theory, but short on facts.” Actions taken by the defendants during that period were not unusual, he said.

He reminded the jury of witness testimony indicating that many of Balbo’s former clients had been given unconventional “pay as you can” financing plans for construction work (See Link: Turnbull Library Trial Witnesses Recall ‘Flexible’ Arrangements with Balbo).

Francis owes money to Castor for work done at his residence, King said, “but owing money is not a crime.”

King also recalled witness testimony stating that Francis’s attempts to pay Castor had been interfered with multiple times, first by a contentious divorce, and later by the federal investigation brought against him which prevented him from getting a bank loan.

“The government’s case is like a bucket without a bottom,” argued Castor’s attorney, Darren John-Baptiste. “Throw it in a well and it comes up with no water.”

At the start of his closing argument, John-Baptiste pushed back at the government’s argument that Balbo had not actually planned to build its new office building using the allegedly phony plans provided by Jaredian.

The government had earlier questioned why a company with less than 10 office employees operating out of its employer’s home needed a two-story office building. John-Baptiste said this was equivalent of saying Castor “should not dream” (See Link: Former Balbo Project Manager: Plans for Office Building Were Legitimate).

After attempting to convince the jury there is no evidence of an agreement between Woods, Francis and Castor, King said Francis does not deserve to be convicted of perjury either, a charge he also faces.

Francis testified before a grand jury in 2015 that he had not been present at the 2008 meeting at which the evaluation committee considered bids for the library contract.

This was later proven to be untrue by subpoenaed communications and witness testimony, although it remains unclear how large a role Francis played in the meeting and how long he was there. Witnesses who were involved in the award of the library contract testified during the trial that they did not know of any way in which Woods or Francis had attempted to steer the process in Balbo’s favor.

King characterized Francis’s false testimony as a failure of memory.

Closing arguments in the case against Francis, Woods and Castor will wrap up Friday. The jury will begin its deliberation shortly afterwards. 

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