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Ex-football coach faces charges in alleged Ponzi scheme

Louisiana loves its college football coaches. Much of the South is the same way. In a case under way in federal court, prosecutors accuse a former college football coach of exploiting that popularity to run an illegal $80 million Ponzi scheme. However, his attorney claims that the ex-coach is himself a victim of the scheme.

The former University of Georgia coach faces felony charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. Prosecutors said the former coach ran a fraudulent investment business along with an accomplice through a West Virginia company. Together, they promised investors returns on investment as high as 50 percent, prosecutors said. Instead, prosecutors said, they used new investors to pay off the older ones.

Prosecutors said the company raised $81 million from 94 investors who were attracted by the coach's star power, but the plans unraveled in 2010 when the company could no longer pay the investors.

Prosecutors argue that the coach knew that the investments were fraudulent from the beginning. The coach's attorney argues that his client was the first victim of the fraud, contributing his own money to the scheme. The accomplice used the coach's celebrity status to attract other investors, the attorney said.

Criminal defense in investment fraud cases often rests partly on the intent of the accused. To be convicted of fraud crimes, the accused must have know that he or she was making false promises at the time they were made. It isn't easy for prosecutors to prove what was going on in a person's head in the past, so they must rely upon business records and other evidence to try to establish the person's intent.

Sorting through this evidence can be difficult work for a jury. The prosecution has many tools at its disposal to cast the evidence in a light that will look bad for the accused. The defense must be equally sophisticated. It's important for Louisiana residents accused of fraud and similar crimes to have the help of attorneys who know how to build a defense against these charges.

Source: WAFB, "Prosecutors: Ex-UGA coach operated fraud scheme," Kate Brumback, May 6, 2014

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