Coronavirus not enough to get mistrial for defendant convicted in Washakie Renewable Energy fraud

(Davis County Sheriff's Office, via AP) This photo provided by the Davis County Sheriff's Office shows Lev Aslan Dermen. He was convicted in the Washakie Renewable Energy fraud.

A federal judge says there’s no evidence the guilty verdicts reached by a jury in a high-profile Utah trial were tainted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawyers for Lev Dermen, who was convicted March 16 on 10 counts of conspiracy and money laundering, had argued before the verdict arrived that a mistrial should be declared because the spread of the coronavirus would cause the jurors to rush their deliberations.

Federal Judge Jill Parrish denied the motion Monday.

“Defendant has offered no evidence that the jury’s decision was compromised in any way by the coronavirus outbreak,” Parrish wrote. “No member of the jury raised any concerns or made any attempt to communicate with the court or the jury coordinator regarding the coronavirus outbreak. And the two notes that the jury did send both suggest that jurors felt no time pressure to reach a verdict and were making good progress in their deliberations.”

After hearing seven weeks of testimony in the complex financial trial, jurors deliberated about eight hours over two days and returned with their verdicts much faster than even some court staffers anticipated.

Dermen was accused of helping co-defendants from Washakie Renewable Energy defraud the government of $471 million from a biofuel program and then launder the proceeds. He faces up to 180 years in prison. His sentencing has not yet been scheduled.

Defense lawyers argued that the real fraudsters were four members of the Kingston clan, who had pleaded guilty previously in the scheme. They belong to the polygamous Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the Kingston Group or The Order.

The defendant and his attorneys aren’t done making arguments about the coronavirus. His lawyers have filed a motion to have him released from the Salt Lake County jail pending sentencing due to the presence of COVID-19 there.

Federal prosecutors have opposed his release. Parrish has not yet ruled on that issue.