CINCINNATI -- Doug Evans took the witness stand on Wednesday and spent hours trying to convince jurors that he committed no crime and was never part of an alleged minority contracting fraud scheme.
It was a surprise move, and jurors seemed riveted by Evans' testimony, which lasted all day.
At first, Evans described how he started Evans Landscaping as a teenager with just a pickup and a shovel. The business now has 250 employees and annual sales of $30 to $40 million.
Later, he endured a grueling cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim Mangan, who asked questions about whether Evans resented minority business enterprises as being unfair and whether he used racial slurs to refer to the man at the center of the case -- Korey Jordan. Evans denied both.
The idea of partnering with a minority business and bidding for public jobs grew out of necessity with the recession in 2007 and 2008, he testified.
"The private sector, mostly home building -- we had all of our eggs in one basket -- was weakening pretty fast," Evans testified. "We were looking to keep all of our people busy."
Evans began looking for a reliable minority business partner. At the same time, Jordan, an IT employee and friend, approached Evans about starting a new venture.
Prosecutors accuse Evans of creating a front company, Ergon Site Construction, with Jordan as a black figurehead to win minority and small business demolition jobs from the city of Cincinnati and the state worth millions.
Evans and his vice president of operations, Jim Bailey, are charged with six crimes related to wire fraud and face up to 103 years in prison if convicted.
Whatever jurors believe about the true relationship between Ergon and Evans Landscaping will likely determine the outcome of the trial.
Although Jordan was the owner of Ergon, he testified that he had no power and had to ask Evans for basic expenses such as gas and a new laptop.
Several former employees and managers testified that Evans employees were in control of Ergon -- its financials, the jobs it bid on, the employees it hired, and its purchases.
However, on the witness stand, Evans claimed the idea for Ergon came from a handful of his advisors. He said he had nothing to do with Ergon's daily operations.
"They asked me to more or less help Korey get a business started with a line of credit and later on with a loan for some trucks," Evans testified. "I like to give people a chance, but when I do give people a chance, I like for them to do what we all agreed on … that he would work hard and try to grow the business."
Evans read aloud text messages and emails that he had sent to Jordan, encouraging him to grow the business. He testified that Jordan shadowed him and wanted to be a respected entrepreneur one day, just like he was.
Before long, Evans said, he grew frustrated with Jordan's poor work ethic. He testified that Jordan billed Evans for gas six times in a day, caused a safety problem on a demolition site and did not properly bill the city for work.
"That's when I realized something needed to be done," Evans testified.
Their dispute eventually ended in a lawsuit and Jordan leaving Ergon.
Evans' testimony lasted for an hour as his attorney, Ben Dusing, focused on questions about the separation of the two companies and how little Evans had to do with Ergon.
Under cross-examination, Mangan tried to force Evans to admit that he received and sent emails with orders about how to run Ergon.
Evans repeatedly answered, "I don't know," to many of Mangan's questions, and insisted: "Ergon was Korey's company. Evans was mine."
However, Evans also admitted to having a personal relationship with employee Annette Verdin, who was involved in some emails about Ergon, and monitoring employee emails with a program set up by Jordan.
Mangan asked Evans about an email he sent about moving an Evans Landscaping employee, who had just had an organ transplant, to Ergon's payroll in order to reduce health care expenses for Evans.
"Somebody wrote this email for me. I didn't write this … because my email writing is not this good," Evans claimed.
He suggested that former CFO Maurice Patterson, who signed a plea deal and testified against him, wrote the email, printed it off, and walked it down to his office for him to sign.
In other instances, Evans said he never read or saw emails that were sent to his account that Mangan read aloud in court.
"So you didn't write one email, and some emails that were sent to your account, you didn't read," Mangan asked.
One email between Evans' managers stated that Jordan could not write company checks without Evans' approval.
Mangan asked why Jordan was left off this email chain if Ergon was in fact his company and he made decisions about it.
"I think that's when Korey was on vacation," Evans said.
Mangan also read to Evans three emails sent by Jordan over a span of several months, repeatedly asking Evans for permission to buy a new laptop.
"I don't know if I allowed him to do it or not," Evans testified. "Just like kids, sometimes he kept asking for it."
Evans also admitted that he stopped Jordan's company credit card and authorized Ergon magnets to be placed over the Evans logo on his equipment, "to build his brand."
Evans will continue his testimony on Thursday.