Thirteen drug dealers purchased dozens of motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles from Calmes Motorsports LLC in Denham Springs beginning in early 2000, federal prosecutors told jurors Monday in Baton Rouge.
Defense attorneys argued that the drug dealers lied about the dealership in an effort to shrink their prison terms or even stay out of jail.
The firm and supervisor Kevin Paul Calmes, 40, face charges of money laundering and structuring cash transactions to avoid attention-grabbing cash-transaction reports to the federal government.
“Kevin was the brain trust,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Shubhra Shivpuri told the jury of eight women and four men. She said the manager instructed drug dealers on how to make large cash purchases without forcing reports to the IRS and other federal agencies.
“If you give me the $13,000 in cash, I have to report it,” Shivpuri quoted Calmes as telling one customer. “But you can give me $10,000 in cash and bring me a check for the rest.”
John S. McLindon, lawyer for Kevin Calmes, urged jurors to remember that drug dealers “lie to get out of jail, lie to stay out of jail.”
McLindon noted that prosecutors repeatedly focused attention on the fact that several of the drug dealers were allowed to buy vehicles from Calmes Motorsports in the names of other people. He said federal rules do not bar the purchase of motorcycles and other vehicles in the names of nominees.
“Kevin Calmes is a hard-working man,” McLindon said. “He works seven days a week, every day that ends in a ‘y.’ ”
Added McLindon: “This case is full of worms. There’s tons of reasonable doubt. Kevin Calmes is not guilty.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rene I. Salomon told jurors that McLindon was handing them “sophistry” while “twisting the law and turning it on its head.”
Added Salomon: “Aristotle said … ‘sophistry is wisdom in appearance only, not in substance.’ ”
The prosecutor said records of Calmes Motorsports indicate the dealership was selling motorcycles and other vehicles to drug dealers at prices that were below cost.
“Why would you lose money when you’re selling a bike to a drug dealer?” Salomon said. “What that tells you is that Calmes Motorsports is a bunch of liars.”
C. Frank Holthaus, lawyer for Calmes Motorsports, said jurors should remember that drug dealers who testified against the dealership come from “a den of vermin and villainy.”
Holthaus said, “You will be judging this government’s case.” He added that the law doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not take money from drug dealers. The dollars themselves have to be known to come from drug transactions, not just from bad people.”
The defense attorney also argued that drug dealers who testified against the dealership and Kevin Calmes did not need any education as to how to structure cash transactions of more than $10,000 so that reports to the IRS could be avoided.
“They know the ($10,000) limit,” Holthaus said. “They already know it and live it.”
Convicted drug dealer Luke Matthews testified that he purchased several motorcycles at the dealership and that each cost at least $14,000, Holthaus recalled.
“He’s paying $14,000 if you believe his testimony,” Holthaus said. “Every (other) Joe Schmoe was paying $10,200 to $10,600.”
Kevin Calmes did not educate drug dealers on how to avoid cash transaction reports to federal agencies, Holthaus argued. “Kevin Calmes was telling them how to obey the law,” Holthaus said.
“Capitalism doesn’t justify crimes,” Salomon, the prosecutor, told jurors.
Salomon asked what Kevin Calmes told an undercover IRS agent posing as a marijuana dealer in recorded conversations.
“We can work with you,” Salomon quoted Calmes as telling the agent. “We’ll see what we can do.”
Added Salomon: “That is a felon. That’s a guy who is experienced in money laundering.”
Kevin Calmes told the undercover agent and other customers that, for cash transactions, “Yep, the limit is $9,999.”
The prosecutor said: “That’s what a good money launderer he is. He is Kevin Calmes, and he is guilty as sin.”
Visiting U.S. District Judge Lance M. Africk, of New Orleans, said he would turn the case over to the jury Tuesday morning.