Federal jury finds Rick Koerber guilty of 15 counts in massive Utah real estate fraud case

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former real estate guru Rick Koerber stands with his family outside the Federal Courthouse in Salt Lake City, as he talks with the media, after a federal jury announced they were deadlocked over the allegations against him. Koerber was accused of illegal business dealings and running a Ponzi scheme. U.S. District Court David Nuffer declared a mistrial in Salt Lake City Monday October 16, 2017.

Rick Koerber once was a prominent Utah real estate investment guru, who gathered more than $100 million from friends, family and fellow church members with the promise of a high return to investors.

But authorities have said Koerber was actually running a Ponzi scheme, defrauding those around him while he kept a lavish lifestyle. And for nine years, federal prosecutors have targeted the former Utah County real estate investor — failing twice to secure conviction.

That is until Thursday, when a federal jury found Koerber guilty of 15 charges of fraud, wire fraud and money laundering after a retrial of the case. He was acquitted of two counts of tax evasion.

The jury, which consisted of eight men and four women, deliberated for three days before reaching their verdict after a two-week trial. They heard much of the same testimony and evidence that had been presented last year during Koerber’s first trial, which was ultimately declared a mistrial after jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict.

This time jurors were convinced of Koerber’s guilt. Federal authorities did not take him into custody Thursday, instead he’ll remain free until he is sentenced Jan. 21. He faces a potential federal prison sentence.

It’s not clear whether Koerber will appeal the sentence, and his attorney, Kathy Nester, declined to comment Thursday evening.

U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber said after the verdict that it was worth the time and effort over the last nine years to pursue criminal charges against Koerber.

“We would not give up on this case,” he told reporters. “The community should know we are looking out for them. And the fraudsters of Utah should know their day is coming. With a verdict like this, it only enhances our ability and encourages us to find others who would steal our hard-earned money.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Barnhart said that he was proud of all the work his agency put into the case, according to a statement that was tweeted on Thursday.

“Justice was delayed,” he said, “but today, it was ultimately served.”

Prosecutors allege Koerber — who pitched himself as a sort of real estate savant — told investors that their money would go to purchase real estate but that he spent much of the money on a hamburger franchise, funding a sexy horror movie and other personal expenses like luxury cars. They also accuse the businessman of taking money from new investors to pay interest to previous investors to make the enterprise seem profitable.

Defense attorneys had argued at trial that Koerber did not make his business plan with the idea of scamming those around him — but said the housing market crash in 2008 affected his business. They noted that much of the prosecutors’ case relied on decade-old recollections from witnesses, and pointed out that none of the paperwork with Koerber’s investors indicated that the man would use the money solely for real estate.

“There was no fraud,” Nester told jurors on Monday during her closing argument.

Koerber was originally indicted on similar charges nine years ago, but his attorney at the time, Marcus Mumford, disputed how federal agents and prosecutors investigated Koerber, and a federal judge threw out much of the evidence in that case in 2011 and 2013. The judge later dropped the case.

Prosecutors appealed part of the dismissal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the case was sent back to Utah for reconsideration. That process led to a January 2017 indictment and the first trial that ended with a hung jury.