CINCINNATI — Evans Landscaping owner Doug Evans stood silently, grasping a chair and staring at the floor, as he waited for the jury to enter a federal courtroom on Tuesday.
Behind him, vice president of operations Jim Bailey paced in his work boots.
Moments later, the jury convicted both men of six charges related to wire fraud, which will likely send them to prison for several years. They also convicted Evans Landscaping, which faces a $1.25 million fine.
“I think the criminal conduct at the heart of this case really deprives a lot of people of a fair shake,” U.S. Attorney Ben Glassman said. “It harms every other business out there that is trying to play by the rules.”
Prosecutors accused Evans of creating a front company, Ergon Site Construction, with IT employee Korey Jordan as a black figurehead to win minority and small business demolition jobs from the city of Cincinnati and the state worth millions.
The jury took only four hours to find Evans, Bailey and the company guilty of all charges at the end of the month-long trial, which had involved 40 witnesses and hundreds of documents.
Evans’ attorney Ben Dusing seemed stunned by the verdict.
“Frankly I need to digest what just happened, which was odd,” Dusing said. “I’ve never quite seen a verdict returned that way.”
Dusing also hinted at an appeal.
“We’re disappointed … but this is not the end of the story,” Dusing said.
After the jury’s verdict, Dusing and Bailey’s attorney, Eric Eckes, both asked U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett for acquittals and new trials. Barrett denied them.
Both Evans and Bailey remain free on bond while they await sentencing. A sentencing date has not been set, but it is at least three months away. Experts say both men could face two to five years in prison.
Because the verdict came so quickly, few people were in the courtroom when it was announced. Other days had drawn dozens of spectators.
On Monday, the courtroom overflowed with more than 75 people, who listened to closing arguments for six hours while at least a dozen others waited in the hallway for an empty seat. Many were neighbors, friends and co-workers of Evans and Bailey.
But the trial also drew critics of Evans.
Steve Johnson, a former employee of Evans Landscaping, said he was fired in 2010 after 10 years on the job for reading a book. He drove from his home near Columbus to watch the trial for two days.
“He (Evans) said he was starting another company but it was all Evans equipment, all Evans employees,” said Johnson, who worked on Ergon job sites as an Evans truck driver. “If he’s found guilty, which he should be, justice was served,” Johnson said. “He made a lot of money from working hard. But as this case proves, he also made a lot of money by ripping people off.”
When Evans testified last week, he told jurors that he was simply helping a friend, Jordan, start his own minority contracting business at the same time he was searching for a reliable partner to win public demolition jobs.
The downturn in the housing market during the recession forced Evans to bid on public jobs to keep his 250 employees working, he said.
Under cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim 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.
He said he never saw many emails that were sent to him, and in one case never wrote an email that was sent from his account.
"Somebody wrote this email for me. I didn't write this … because my email writing is not this good," Evans claimed.
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.
Jordan pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, along with former general manager Mike Moeller and two former Evans CFOs, Maurice Patterson and John Dietrich. In exchange for their testimony they will avoid prison time.
Bailey wasn’t involved in as many decisions about Ergon as other Evans managers. But prosecutors showed jurors that he “ghostwrote” emails for Ergon employees to send to the city to hide Evans’ involvement in the minority business.
“Jim Bailey is complicit in this whole thing,” Johnson said. “He’s just as much responsible for this as Doug himself, because he carried out everything. He gave the instructions of what trucks to go where, what employees to be at what jobs, everything.”
Dusing had argued that the city of Cincinnati knew about the relationship between Evans and Ergon and approved it. He also said there was no victim in this case, because the city and the state both saw all demolition jobs completed, and done well.
Glassman doesn’t see it that way.
“The fraud in this case makes it unfair to all of the legitimate small businesses who are trying to compete, and it makes it unfair for all of the large businesses who are trying to compete, because they are playing by the rules,” Glassman said.
Glassman hopes this case is a warning to other businesses owners who may consider doing something illegal.
“That is part of the goal of this, and any prosecution -- a message of general deterrence,” Glassman said. “Folks who are in a position to cut a corner to gain an unfair advantage should think twice before going down the path of committing fraud.”