To prepare for an evidence hearing next week, a federal judge allowed convicted real estate fraudster Rick Koerber to spend hours on the phone with his attorneys while he’s being held in jail.
But this special privilege apparently backfired. Koerber’s phone use has made him a target at the Weber County jail, his attorneys wrote in court papers, and they’ve been unable to have meaningful time to prepare.
They asked for the hearing to be delayed — the latest request for more time in a federal prosecution that has stretched on for the past decade. U.S. District Judge Paul Warner granted the request Wednesday, and pushed the hearing back until the end of July.
Warner ordered Koerber to be jailed until his yet-to-be-scheduled sentencing, finding that the Utah County real estate investor had likely been involved in a recent scheme to defraud the Oregon courts.
Koerber’s attorney, Kathy Nester, had asked the judge to allow her client to go free before a hearing originally scheduled for next week, telling Warner that the case was incredibly complicated and attorneys needed Koerber’s help. The judge instead allowed a two-hour phone call from the jail several times a week.
Nester wrote in court papers that Koerber was allowed to make his two-hour phone call last Thursday, even as the jail was on lockdown and the other prisoners were confined to their cells.
"Following Mr. Koerber's special treatment by the guards, he began to suffer harassment and threats from other prisoners relating to his lengthy use of the telephone," Nester wrote.
The following day, Koerber wasn't able to reach his attorney and stopped trying to call because he feared the other prisoners. And that Saturday, Koerber cut the phone call short because all of the prisoners had been let into a common area of the jail where the phones were located.
Nester wrote that attorneys now will meet face-to-face with Koerber, but she asked for a delay in the hearing because it will take longer to schedule meetings at the jail.
Federal prosecutors opposed rescheduling the hearing, saying it is another delay tactic.
“He has consistently sought to put off deadlines, postpone his trial date, and, most recently, to postpone his sentencing date,” prosecutor Tyler Murray wrote in court papers. “Koerber has also tried to use the delays — for which he is largely responsible — as a weapon, and he has filed multiple motions to have the case dismissed for various reasons relating to timeliness.”
Koerber’s sentencing on his fraud charges has been delayed several times since the Utah County real estate investor was found guilty of 15 counts last September. The latest delay revolved around a dispute about the number of victims and amount of money scammed.
Federal prosecutors say victims number in the hundreds and their losses add up to more than $45 million. They want Koerber put behind bars for the next 20 years.
But Koerber’s defense attorney says those numbers are exaggerated. She asked a judge for one last evidence hearing to hash out the conflict. That is the hearing next week that they now want delayed.
Federal prosecutors argue Koerber, 46, has led a life of deception, perpetuating a gigantic, two-decade-long fraud that targeted those closest to him — friends, family and fellow church members.
He used common teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a way to gain trust, federal prosecutors wrote in court papers, and often bragged that one of his investors was a general authority in their faith.
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 it on a hamburger franchise, funding a sexy horror movie and personal expenses like luxury cars and minting his own coins. 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.
Koerber was originally indicted on similar charges 10 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 dismissed the case.
Prosecutors appealed part of the dismissal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the case was sent back to Utah for reconsideration. That process led to a January 2017 indictment, which ended in a mistrial that fall after the jury could not reach a verdict. Federal prosecutors retried the case, and Koerber was convicted last September of the 15 crimes.