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St. George • The man prosecutors say was the biggest outside salesman of the largest financial fraud in Utah history conceded Wednesday he received checks labeled as commission payments for finding people willing to invest.
William J. Hammons, 66, testified for a second day in his two-week trial on 10 felony charges tied to his role in directing $52 million to Ogden businessman Val Southwick's VesCor real estate development company, which filed for bankruptcy in 2007, leaving about 180 investors out of at least $180 million. Southwick is serving a lengthy prison sentence for what prosecutors say was a giant Ponzi scheme in which money from new investors was used to pay off initial ones to make the company appear successful and lure in more funds.
Hammons, 66, testified Tuesday that he was unaware that VesCor was a fraud, that he didn't seek out investors and never officially worked for the company. Instead, he cast himself as just another investor who was paid only referral fees.
But on the stand Wednesday, he was shown copies of two checks one for $34,000 and the other for $20,850 that were endorsed by him. He conceded that the memo line on the front of the check specified the money was for "commissions." Prosecutors say Hammons failed to disclose to potential investors that he was receiving substantial commissions for directing their money to VesCor in violation of state securities laws.
Hammons also was questioned by Assistant Utah Attorney General Che Arguello about a confidential agreement he entered into with Southwick guaranteeing Hammons' investment of $1.4 million.
If VesCor was a legitimate business, "why would you need a [confidential] guarantee?" Arguello asked.
"He offered it and I took it," responded Hammons, adding that he never asked Southwick about the need for secrecy.
The defense rested its case after Hammons' testimony. The six-woman, five-man jury is expected to get instructions and hear closing arguments on Thursday before beginning deliberations.
Hammons is charged with four counts of securities fraud, four counts of sales of securities by an unlicensed agent, one of abuse of a vulnerable adult (for investments from a couple in their 70s) and one of engaging in a pattern of unlawful conduct. If convicted, he faces prison sentences of one to 15 years for each of the second-degree felonies and up to five years for the third-degree charges.
Court records show that with returns on his investments and commissions, Hammons received more than $15.3 million from VesCor. A court appointed trustee in the VesCor bankruptcy is seeking the return of VesCor monies paid to Hammons.
Hammons admitted in court documents he never did any research on the company, instead taking Southwick's word that the VesCor companies were making as much as a 36 percent return year after year.
An accounting done for the trustee shows that Hammons received more than $15.3 million including at least $7.9 million in fees or commissions from VesCor from the years 2000 to 2008. Subtracting what Hammons invested in VesCor, he still received $7.6 million more than he put in, the accountants said.
Documents provided to the trustee showed that Hammons had a net worth of $5 million, which accountants said most likely came from VesCor investors.
Former VesCor controller Travis Green, who worked for the company for a year, also testified for the defense Wednesday, apparently to show that Southwick had sole control over the operation.