Dealership supervisor’s trial opens
Kevin Paul Calmes, supervisor at Calmes Motorsports LLC in Denham Springs, educated drug dealers on how to launder illegal profits through the motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle dealership, a federal prosecutor alleged Monday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rene I. Salomon told a jury of eight women and four men on the opening day of trial that Calmes, 40, “had to teach the drug dealers how to spend their money without appearing like drug dealers.”
Both Calmes and the dealership are accused of money laundering and structuring cash transactions to avoid filing required reports on cash purchases of more than $10,000 to the Internal Revenue Service and federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
“Kevin Calmes hasn’t broken any laws,” the supervisor’s attorney, John S. McLindon, told the jury. “He is not guilty of any of this stuff.”
McLindon added that many of the prosecution’s witnesses will be drug dealers whose testimony cannot be trusted.
“They lie,” McLindon said of those witnesses. “They will say whatever they have to in order to lower their sentences or to stay out of jail.”
C. Frank Holthaus, attorney for Calmes Motorsports, urged jurors to pay close attention to all prosecution witnesses.
Employees of Calmes Motorsports did not know any of the cash that paid for motorcycles came from drug dealers, Holthaus said. He predicted prosecutors would not prove otherwise.
“Let me tell you what’s being judged here,” Holthaus added. “Your government is being judged here.”
Salomon, the prosecutor, said an undercover IRS agent also approached Kevin Calmes and made it clear he wanted to buy a motorcycle with drug money. Audio and video recordings were made of that transaction, Salomon said.
Salomon described Kevin Calmes as a spider at the center of a large web.
“What we have here is a spiderweb of deceit,” Salomon said, adding that Calmes repeatedly instructed drug dealers on ways to break cash transactions of more than $10,000 into smaller pieces so that they could avoid filing cash transaction reports with federal regulators.
“Once is a mistake,” Salomon said. “Twice is a coincidence. And three times is a pattern.”
McLindon, Kevin Calmes’ attorney, argued Salomon was mistaken in his conclusions.
“Where does Kevin get these options?” McLindon asked. “From the IRS.”
McLindon urged jurors to pay attention to the recorded meeting between Calmes and the undercover IRS agent.
The agent told Kevin Calmes he wanted to avoid all paperwork on his purchase of a motorcycle, McLindon told the jury.
“You know what Kevin says?” McLindon asked. “‘What are you talking about? You’ve got to do the paperwork.’”
The undercover agent never told Calmes he was a drug dealer, McLindon added. Instead, McLindon quoted the agent as saying, he “(messed around) with weed.”
McLindon also criticized prosecutors for focusing on the fact that Kevin Calmes and some of the dealership’s employees accepted cash amounts of $9,999 toward the purchase of motorcycles.
“It’s not a crime to do it that way,” McLindon insisted.
Salomon told jurors accepting cash of $9,999 for a motorcycle purchase is a crime if it is part of a scheme to structure the deal in such a way as to avoid cash transaction reports to the federal government.
The prosecutor added that Kevin Calmes and other dealership employees knew some of their customers wanted to launder drug money.
“You have warning signs,” Salomon said. “Those warning signs are young men and women walking in with cash, $10,000 or more. They’re pulling it out of their pants pockets. They’re pulling it out of their socks. They’re pulling it out of plastic bags.”
Some of those people also told Kevin Calmes and dealership employees they wanted to purchase motorcycles under other people’s names, the prosecutor said.
“Calmes Motorsports helps people do that,” Salomon told the jury.
“They treat their customers with courtesy and respect,” McLindon countered. “They don’t discriminate. They don’t pre-judge. Kevin’s not a criminal. He hasn’t broken any laws.”
Visiting U.S. District Judge Lance M. Africk, of New Orleans, presides at the trial, which is expected to last at least a week.