CINCINNATI -- Nearly three years after FBI agents arrived in unmarked cars to raid Evans Landscaping, defense attorneys want a judge to exclude all of the evidence they collected - including more than two million pages of documents.
Well-known landscaping company owner Doug Evans faces six criminal charges for allegedly using a shell company to win minority and small business contracts from the City of Cincinnati and the state.
Evans, 56, who built a landscaping empire and became Newtown’s largest property owner, faces up to 103 years in prison if convicted.
Evans’ attorney, Ben Dusing, filed a motion on Friday to suppress all evidence the FBI collected from four search warrants.
His motion reveals the size and scope of the FBI’s probe into Evans, as agents worked to build a case against him for more than three years.
Prosecutors allege that Evans and an IT employee, Korey Jordan, created a new company, Ergon Site Construction, in 2008 to act as a front for Evans to win minority and small business contracts for demolishing houses, public schools and other projects.
The FBI executed its first search warrant in September 2014 and seized one thumb drive containing emails and information from a Google account.
Months later, FBI agents conducted surveillance on job sites where Ergon was supposed to be performing work.
In February 2015, agents saw two Mack dump trucks with large Ergon logos hauling debris. One of those trucks was registered to Evans. A white man who exited one of the trucks was wearing a neon green jacket with an Evans logo, according to search warrants.
Then in July 2015, agents raided two Evans Landscaping locations on Round Bottom Road with search warrants in hand. They left with several boxes of files, computer equipment and an estimated two million pages of documents.
The FBI got its final search warrant for Evans’ Apple accounts on April 28, 2017 – just weeks before he was indicted.
Dusing argues these search warrants are flawed, and illegal, because, they fail to entirely describe the places to be searched and the things to be seized. He is asking a judge to exclude from trial all evidence gathered from them.
Particularly flagrant, Dusing says, is the 2017 search warrant which allowed the FBI to see all of Evans’ emails back to the 1990s - “the entire contents of his inbox, if you will.”
“Here, the warrants have nothing. They literally do not describe the places to be searched and the things seized … the constitutional defects they reflect appear to be virtually unprecedented,” Dusing wrote in his motion.
In the coming weeks prosecutors will respond to Dusing’s motion, which will ultimately be decided by U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett.
So far Dusing has been unsuccessful with the judge. He argued that all charges should be dropped ahead of trial because no crime was actually committed. But Barrett disagreed in April.
Barrett also sided with prosecutors on the question of whether Evans and Jim Bailey, vice president of operations at Evans Landscaping, should be tried separately, as defense attorneys wanted. The two men will face a jury trial together on Nov. 14.
Evans and Bailey face the same charges: two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, three counts of wire fraud and one count of misprision of a felony. The company, Evans Landscaping, faces five charges and a potential $1.25 million in fines.
Jordan already pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Three other employees also signed plea agreements admitting their guilt and all will testify at trial.
The trial may offer a window into how this large landscaping company did business with the City of Cincinnati.
Evans has insisted he was just trying to help Jordan start his own minority-owned business by giving him startup money, guaranteeing a line of credit and teaching him the business.
But new court documents show city inspectors were suspicious of Ergon in 2013.
A city inspector visited Ergon job sites in 2013 and found Evans Landscaping employees there, without approval to perform weekend work, according to search warrants.
“The inspector noticed a significant amount of Ergon’s demolition sites were being worked on weekends. It is believed this was done in an attempt to avoid any inspectors visiting Ergon job sites where Evans Landscaping was performing demolition,” FBI agent Matthew DeBlauw wrote in a search warrant affidavit.
When a city contract compliance officer met with Jordan and Ergon in 2013 to review minority and small business qualifications, she asked Ergon for a list of equipment.
“Records show that Ergon and Evans Landscaping conspired to fabricate a false list of equipment to show the city and obscure the true nature of the equipment ownership,” according to search warrants that claim Evans transferred several trucks to Ergon.
Ergon got nearly $2.2 million in demolition contracts from city – and the FBI alleges that it passed more than $2 million through a bank account to Evans Landscaping, according to search warrants.