A judge delayed the trial of well-known landscaping owner Doug Evans, likely for several months, while attorneys pour over mountains of evidence in the case of alleged minority contracting fraud.
U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett had set trial to begin on Aug. 21, but agreed last week to delay it for an unspecified period of time.
The ruling isn’t surprising, considering the complicated nature of the case, and federal prosecutors did not oppose the delay.
“Counsel for all parties indicated that discovery is voluminous and production of documents and other evidence is expected to be ongoing for an indeterminate period,” Barrett wrote in his July 14 order.
Evans, 55, who built a landscaping empire from a humble beginning hauling mulch in a pickup truck as a teenager, faces up to 103 years in prison if convicted of all six charges related to alleged minority contracting fraud.
Federal officials unsealed the indictment against Evans and Jim Bailey, 49, who is vice president of operations of the prominent Evans Landscaping, on June 9.
Ben Dusing, who is Evans’ attorney, had originally said he expected the trial to take place six to nine months after the indictment was unsealed – which would place a trial date sometime between December 2017 and March 2018.
Dusing is a former federal prosecutor who successfully defended Kenwood Towne Place developer Matt Daniels against charges of fraud in December 2013.
Attorneys in the Daniels case had just over a year to prepare for that two-week trial. A jury found Daniels not guilty.
But the federal investigation in the Evans case has already been active for more than two years.
FBI agents first raided Evans Landscaping locations in Newtown, Anderson Township and Mt. Carmel on July 7, 2015. They arrived in unmarked cars and took away dozens of boxes of documents.
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 with the city of Cincinnati and the state for demolishing houses, public schools and other projects.
The city awarded Ergon 140 demolition contracts worth nearly $2 million.
Whatever jurors believe about the true relationship between Jordan and Evans may determine Evans' fate at trial.
Dusing said his client was just trying to help Jordan start up his own minority-owned business by giving him $85,000 in startup money, guaranteeing a line of credit and teaching him the business.
"He was trying to do a nice thing," Dusing said.
Jordan and three other Evans Landscaping employees pleaded guilty in the case and will testify at trial: Maurice Patterson and John Dietrich, two former CFOs; and former manager Michael Moeller.
Both Patterson and Moeller pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which could earn them each 20 years in prison. Dietrich, another former CFO, pleaded guilty to misprision (concealment) of a felony and could be sentenced to three years in prison.
Some of these former employees had been terminated from the company, now work for competitors, and would have a lot to gain by "assailing both Mr. Evans and the company," Dusing said.
Both 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 prominent Newtown business, Evans Landscaping, faces five charges and a potential $1.25 million in fines.
Evans has been collecting property for more than 20 years and is Newtown’s biggest landowner. He controls more than 800 acres, including the purchase of Ivy Hills Country Club in 2014.
He owns industrial warehouses, farming land, parcels adjoining railroad lines and hilltop land overlooking the Little Miami River that was once owned by George Washington.
That real estate portfolio was valued at roughly $18.8 million in 2015, according to auditor records from Hamilton and Clermont counties and listings for his property.
Both Evans and Bailey will be in court with their attorneys on Aug. 11 to discuss scheduling.
Barrett, who is the judge in this case, is coincidentally the same judge who oversaw the trial of Daniels.