Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Fraud Trial's Defense Up Next

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Fraud Trial's Defense Up Next

Article excerpt

FLIPPING: It's risky, but defendants are likely to take the stand

TAMPA

The star witnesses in the next leg of the federal trial focused on the largest flipping fraud conspiracy in Florida history will likely be the three defendants themselves.

Karen Unger -- the unorthodox and flamboyant out-of-state attorney who represents defendants George Cavallo and Paula Hornberger -- plans to put her clients on the stand in an effort to win jurors over. Her contention is that the couple were simply dupes in the decade-long conspiracy, used by their relative Rich Bobka and by the scheme's mastermind Craig Adams.

Anne Borghetti, who represents defendant Joel Streinz, has similar plans.

The defense will be taking the driver's seat today in the case after eight weeks of testimony from government witnesses. Prosecutors ended their case on Friday.

Unger also will call other investors who might have unwittingly participated in real estate deals with Adams and Bobka, Adams' chief lieutenant and Cavallo's brother.

She also is expected to present Gary Lacefield, the president and senior consultant of the Texas-based Risk Mitigation Group.

Lacefield, an expert witness who will give an overview of the real estate market during the boom, is expected to describe the transgressions of mortgage lenders and other real estate professionals operating in that frenetic time.

Having the defendants testify can have a strong impact on juries, but it also comes with its own risks, said Frank Rubino, a prominent Miami criminal defense attorney who represented former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega in the 1980s.

"If a defendant can take the stand, he should," Rubino said. "I think it's critical. No matter that the law says the defendant never has to testify, members of the jury -- in their heart of hearts -- want an innocent man to stand up and say he is innocent."

But those benefits assume a good performance, Rubino and other defense attorneys acknowledged.

"The downside is that they may not testify well, look well or speak well," Rubino said. "And there may be evidence the prosecution can rub their noses in or things they cannot explain."

The testimony from Cavallo, Hornberger and Streinz will be part of some broader themes Unger will seek to craft. From her opening arguments and cross examination of government witnesses, some of Unger's strategy already has been revealed.

She will try to convey to the jury:

That Adams and Bobka orchestrated fraudulent deals in the names of people who often were unaware of the crimes the two men were committing.

That Adams, Bobka and the mortgage professionals, title agents and lawyers they worked with were the main beneficiaries of the crimes.

That the nation's entire financial system during the boom was corrupted by the pursuit of easy money. …

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