By Bill Lodge
Advocate staff writer
September 26, 2012
Evers F. Harris is a white-collar criminal who included his sister among the 86 investors from whom he stole nearly $500,000 over three years, federal prosecutors told a Baton Rouge jury Tuesday.
But defense attorneys painted Harris, 40, as a self-taught businessman who simply failed at his first attempt at entrepreneurship.
Five Baton Rouge residents, identified in Harris’ indictment only by their initials, were among the investors whose money paid for Harris and his wife to live a life of luxury in Las Vegas, according to the eight count mail fraud case built by Assistant U.S. attorneys Richard L. Bourgeois Jr. and Shubhra Shivpuri.
Bourgeois told jurors that Harris’ false reports to investors convinced them they were earning profits rather than enabling Harris and his wife to spend time at spas and casinos, go on shopping sprees, and buy two Jaguar automobiles.
“The one thing Harris Investments LLC does not do: It doesn’t make money,” Bourgeois told the jury of eight women and four men.
Defense attorneys Marci Blaize and Harry L. Daniels III promoted Harris as a man who left a dead-end job at a Mississippi chicken-processing plant after studying business tactics on the Internet.
Blaize told jurors Bourgeois was mistaken when he said Harris made no real investments with his customers’ money.
“That’s just not true,” Blaize said. “The failure of the American dream is not a crime.”
Harris’ indictment accuses him of using Harris Investments LLC in both Mississippi and Nevada to defraud investors in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and New York.
Harris had his investors sign contracts in which he promised their “funds would be used for investment purposes and were 100 percent guaranteed and insured,” the indictment alleges. “The contracts also represented that the investors would receive 20 percent interest for a six-month investment or 40 percent interest for a 12-month investment.”
Bourgeois told jurors Harris sent false account statements to investors that “showed them on paper that their investments were earning money.”
When Harris and his wife moved to Las Vegas in 2004, Bourgeois added, Harris enlisted his sister, Connie Thomas, to continue collecting payments from other investors in Mississippi. Thomas and her husband had already invested with Harris, the prosecutor said.
“She (Thomas) doesn’t know that when the monthly statements come in, the money is already gone,” Bourgeois noted. “These bank accounts were the personal piggybanks of Harris and his wife.”
Harris’ wife is not charged in the indictment with any offense.
By October 2005, Bourgeois told jurors, Harris “was so out of control, he couldn’t even pay his own bills.” That’s when Harris sent letters to his investors showing a balance in his investment fund of $162,850 when that balance actually was $367, the prosecutor alleged.
After early 2006, investors ceased hearing from Harris, Bourgeois said.
“There was no check in the mail,” the prosecutor told jurors.
“There was no scheme here,” Blaize, the defense attorney, countered. “There was no intention to defraud people.”
Harris used his investors’ money to support his efforts to market a secret invention — a traffic safety program — to local and state government agencies, Blaize said.
That invention could not be discussed publicly, Blaize added.
“It’s called a trade secret, folks,” she said. “No one knows the actual formula for Coca Cola. They keep it a secret.”
Blaize told jurors: “What he (Harris) intended was to do the right thing. Did he dream too big? Did he bite off more than he could chew? Maybe.”
“Evers Harris is not the first person to start his own business and not succeed,” Blaize said, before asking jurors to find him not guilty.
The trial in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge James J. Brady is expected to continue through Friday.