As Jacob Kingston finished testifying against his former co-defendant Thursday in a multimillion-dollar fraud trial, the defense attorney who had grilled him for three straight days said he questions the key witness’s mental stability.
Lev Aslan Dermen is on trial in Salt Lake City’s federal court on 10 counts related to a biofuel fraud at Washakie Renewable Energy, but it was Kingston, that company’s CEO, who was under scrutiny Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday when defense lawyer Mark Geragos conducted his cross-examination.
Kingston was on the witness stand for six days in all.
Geragos spent most of his time pressing Kingston about frauds that began as early as 2008 — three years before he met Dermen. Kingston often answered that he doesn’t know or can’t recall specific financial transactions between Washakie and other businesses, some of which happened a decade ago. Federal officials say Washakie collected $470 million in fraudulent biofuel tax credits.
The back-and-forth between Geragos and Kingston grew more contentious as it progressed. During Thursday’s morning break, court staffers hung signs on the lawyers’ podium and the witness stand reminding Geragos and Kingston not to talk over one another.
In one exchange that appeared to frustrate both men, Geragos asked Kingston whether he knew who owned a lender called Equitable Funding. Washakie sent millions of dollars there. At first, Kingston said he did not know who owned Equitable Funding. Under further questioning, he said it was a business affiliated with the polygamous Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the Kingston Group or The Order.
Kingston, a polygamist in the cooperative society, said he thought Geragos was asking for the name of the specific person listed as the owner of Equitable Funding.
“If you can be a lot more clear on your questions,” Kingston said, “I’ll be a lot more clear on my answers.”
One of the trial’s most dramatic moments thus far came with the jury out of the courtroom for a lunch break. Prosecutors asked Judge Jill Parrish to put a halt to what they called repetitive, irrelevant questions from Geragos.
That’s when Geragos told Parrish he had never seen a witness like Kingston before. The Los Angeles attorney wondered aloud whether Kingston’s failure to remember was a sign of mental health issues.
Geragos also told the judge that he intends to tell the jury during closing arguments that Kingston is “unhinged” and “untethered” for his falling for an extortion scam by a former employee. The employee, knowing the government was investigating Washakie, told Kingston he had a contact at the U.S. Department of Justice called “Commissioner Gordon” who could make his problems go away. Kingston paid the man cash bribes, but there was no such person at the Justice Department.
Geragos’ cross-examination ended shortly after lunch.
During redirect questions, federal prosecutor Richard Rolwing pointed out that Geragos seldom made defenses against the multiple instances of fraud in which Kingston had testified he and Dermen participated. Dermen also has gone by the name Levon Termendzhyan.
“You remember those dozens and dozens of questions Mr. Geragos asked about Levon Termendzhyan?” Rolwing asked.
“I don’t,” Kingston replied.
“He didn’t did he?” the prosecutor said.
Kingston has pleaded guilty to 41 counts related to the biofuel scheme. He is in jail awaiting sentencing after the Dermen trial. Prosecutors have agreed to request Kingston not receive more than 30 years in prison.
It could be a while before the jury hears that closing argument. The trial is scheduled to last another month.
Also Thursday, embattled Belize Minister of Security John Saldivar resigned from the government. The country’s prime minister announced the departure in a news release.
Earlier this week, prosecutors in Dermen’s trial showed the jury text messages between Kingston and Saldivar from 2014. Kingston agreed to pay Saldivar $50,000 to finance what Kingston said were political campaigns by Saldivar and others in his political party.
The judge on Thursday released the texts shown to the jury.