CINCINNATI -- A federal judge refused to dismiss criminal charges against Doug Evans on Monday, so the well-known owner of Evans Landscaping will face a jury in November.
U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett declined to drop any of the six criminal charges that Evans faces for allegedly using a front company to win minority and small business contracts from the city of Cincinnati and the state.
Evans, 56, 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.
Evans’ attorney, Ben Dusing, had argued that all charges should be dropped ahead of trial because no crime was actually committed. But Barrett disagreed.
“The Evans defendants may not properly challenge the adequacy of the evidence at this pre-trial stage of the proceedings,” Barrett wrote in his order.
Instead Barrett set the case for a jury trial on Nov. 14.
At trial, which may last four weeks, Evans will face a jury alongside Jim Bailey, vice president of operations at Evans Landscaping.
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.
In a separate ruling, Barrett sided with federal prosecutors on the question of whether Evans and Bailey should be tried separately, as defense attorneys wanted, or face the same jury.
“The Evans defendants are going to get ganged up on,” Dusing said, if both men faced trial together. “It’s not going to be a fair fight.”
But Barrett disagreed.
“The Evans defendants have failed to demonstrate specific instances of prejudice,” Barrett wrote. “This court has not been presented with anything other than speculative possibilities of statements or evidence against one defendant that would not be admissible against the other.”
The high-profile case began when FBI agents in unmarked cars raided Evans Landscaping in July 2015.
Almost exactly two years later, officials unsealed federal charges against Evans and Bailey in July 2017.
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 city awarded Ergon 140 demolition contracts worth nearly $2 million.
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 $85,000 in startup money, guaranteeing a line of credit and teaching him the business.
"He was trying to do a nice thing," said Dusing, who successfully defended Kenwood Towne Place developer Matt Daniels against fraud charges in 2013.
Evans’ companies employ more than 300. He is also Newtown’s biggest landowner, controlling more than 800 acres, including the purchase of Ivy Hills Country Club in 2014.