CINCINNATI – After four weeks and 40 witnesses, testimony is over in the criminal wire fraud trial of Doug Evans, his company Evans Landscaping, and vice president of operations, Jim Bailey.
On Friday morning, U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett dismissed jurors for the weekend after the last defense witnesses testified. Jurors will return on Monday morning to listen to several hours of closing arguments, and could begin deliberations late that day.
Evans and Bailey both face six charges related to wire fraud -- and as much as 103 years in prison -- for allegedly creating a front company to win minority contracts from the state and city of Cincinnati worth millions.
On Friday, several witnesses testified about Bailey’s character, including developer Rick Greiwe.
“He’s really reliable,” Greiwe testified. “If he puts in a contract what he’s going to do, it gets done.”
Greiwe testified that he used Evans Landscaping for site work on condominium projects in Mariemont. They demolished old apartment buildings to make way for the new buildings.
“Most (general contractors) know when they need to get something done, they call Evans,” testified Mike Mauch, a principal at RWA Architects.
Over the years, Mauch has worked with Evans Landscaping on 500 projects and closely with Bailey on 50. He testified that Bailey is a “straight shooter.”
While Evans has dominated most of the trial, Bailey faces the same charges as his boss. On most days, dozens of supporters sat in the courtroom, many wearing Evans Landscaping uniforms.
Evans is a well-known East Side entrepreneur. He started as a teenager with just a pickup and a shovel. Evans Landscaping now has 250 employees and annual sales of $30 to $40 million.
The idea of partnering with a minority business and bidding for public jobs grew out of necessity with the recession in 2007 and 2008, Evans testified this week.
"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."
Doris Eckes, a retired administrative assistant, testified this week that Evans Landscaping used to get more city demolition jobs until a rule change forced them out of the work.
"The city of Cincinnati used to be open to any demolition contractor, so we could bid on those jobs," Eckes testified. "Eventually it went to minority businesses, so we couldn't do that anymore."
Prosecutors accuse Evans of creating a front company, Ergon Site Construction, with Korey Jordan, an IT employee, as a black figurehead in order to win minority contracts worth millions.
Whatever jurors believe about the true relationship between Ergon and Evans Landscaping will likely determine the outcome of the trial.
“This case is about lying and cheating,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Glatfelter told the jury during her opening statement. “The defendants lied and cheated to gain an unfair advantage against their competitors.”
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. “Basically I had to keep Ergon compliant … and sign checks,” Jordan testified, admitting that he regularly signed 20 blank Ergon checks at a time for Evans.
Jordan said the idea for the unusual name of the shell company – Ergon - came from former Evans CFO Maurice Patterson, who also signed a plea deal admitting his guilt.
“Ergon meant work in Latin … and jumbling the letters and it means Negro, but I don’t know if that means anything,” Jordan testified.
Jordan and Patterson are two of four Evans former employees who pleaded guilty to lesser charges, in exchange for their testimony at trial.
Former Evans general manager Mike Moeller said he wrote bids, without ever consulting Ergon, to win Evans more than $10 million in contracts to demolish schools across the state.
“I think the whole intent was for this guy to run his own business, in the beginning,” Moeller testified. “It went in the weeds later on … basically it was going down hill.”
Moeller testified that Evans Landscaping inflated equipment charges and Ergon work charges on bids. He also said that Doug Evans asked him to submit a false payment application to the state for a job that lacked any minority subcontractor work at all.
John Dietrich, former CFO at Evans, testified that he routinely drained Ergon’s bank account when it got paid for city jobs, and moved the money to Evans Landscaping.
“Our charge was to get Ergon’s income as low as possible,” Dietrich testified.
But many other former and current Evans employees testified that Ergon was a separate company, run by Jordan, and that Doug Evans had very little to do with it.
Former Evans general counsel Tony Muto said the two companies were separate, independent and legal.
“Mr. Evans would not have lost $300,000 if he was controlling Ergon,” Muto testified, referring to a line of bank credit, secured by Evans, that Jordan had nearly maxed out.
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. The two men coached youth football together.
The idea for Ergon came from two key advisors – Patterson and longtime advisor Tony Schweier, who is a shareholder at Cincinnati accounting firm Clark Schaefer Hackett, Muto said.
“Mr. Patterson and Mr. Schweier were the masterminds of setting up this business,” Muto testified. “I relied on their knowledge and experience to let me know how to get things done.”
But Schweier, who has not been charged with a crime, testified that he warned Evans that Ergon was a bad idea. He eventually ended his 22-year relationship with Evans in 2014 because of concerns about Ergon.
“My concern was this was not a legitimate MBE (company) and it would end badly – one way or another,” Schweier testified.