Former Rangers and Islanders player Bryan Berard completes testimony in the trial against alleged NHL scammers Phil Kenner and Tommy Constantine.
CENTRAL ISLIP, L.I. — The jurors in the trial of two men accused of bilking millions of dollars from more than a dozen NHL players have heard an awful lot about Ronald Richards.
The jury may finally get to see the Beverly Hills attorney up close next week if he testifies as ordered Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco.
The Eastern District of New York prosecutors who are pursuing criminal charges against self-described “lifestyle coach” Phil Kenner and former race car driver Tommy Constantine want Richards to explain what happened to the millions of dollars the NHL players contributed to a “Global Settlement Fund” to wage a legal war against golf course developer Ken Jowdy.
Richards administered the client trust account and the prosecutors want him to explain transactions he made as well as fees he received from the GSF. Richards’ attorney, Anthony M. La Pinta, argued in a motion and in a court appearance Tuesday that forcing Richards to testify against Kenner and Constantine, his former clients, would violate attorney-client privilege.
“Mr. Richards’ account was used in a fraudulent activity. The crime-fraud exception applies,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Saritha Komatireddy told the court, referring to the legal theory that says communications between lawyers and clients are not privileged if they were made with the intent to commit or cover up a crime.
Bianco ordered Richards to appear in his courtroom in the Alfonse M. D’Amato United States Courthouse Monday morning, but he also offered Richards’ New York lawyer, Anthony M. La Pinta, an opportunity to persuade the judge to rescind the order. Bianco told La Pinta to file papers by Thursday that explain why forcing Richards to testify would violate attorney-client privilege and why the crime-fraud exception doesn’t apply in this case.
Prosecutors say Kenner and Constantine stole millions of dollars from the NHL players and other investors. The government claims the players were told their money would be used to develop real estate projects in Hawaii, Mexico and Las Vegas; instead, the money was used to fund Kenner and Constantine’s lavish lifestyles, seed pet business projects and pay off their own legal bills and judgments.
When the players began to ask questions about their investments, they were told that Kenner had loaned Jowdy $ 5.5 million of their money for a short-term, high-interest loan. Kenner and Constantine then claimed Jowdy had refused to pay the money back, and convinced the players to contribute $ 250,000 each to the GSF, which would be used to mount a legal battle against the developer.
Instead, according to prosecutors, Kenner and Constantine blew that money, too.
The case not only underscores the problems wealthy but naïve pro athletes have when they entrust their money with untrustworthy financial advisers, but it comes with its own cast of cinematic characters such as Richards, a Southern California lawyer who likes to flaunt his wealth and his connections to celebrities, athletes and politicians.
La Pinta acknowledged that asking Richards about the amounts of individual transactions did not violate attorney-client privilege, but he balked when it came to potential testimony about the purposes of the transactions.
“The purpose steps into privileged communications,” La Pinta said. “There is more to this than explaining a bank ledger.”
Meanwhile, former Rangers defenseman Bryan Berard completed his testimony Tuesday after almost two full days on the witness stand.
Berard, who first met Kenner in 1994 when he was one of the top pro hockey prospects in North America and Kenner was a financial adviser, was a longtime client. Berard acknowledged in his testimony that he once believed Jowdy was responsible for his lost fortune, but after reviewing mountains of documents and talking with other investors, he later became convinced that Kenner and Constantine had stolen his money.
Berard spent years providing documents and other evidence to law-enforcement officials in an effort to persuade them to bring charges against Kenner and Constantine.
Constantine’s attorney, Joseph LaRusso, asked him why he did not take a more active role in a now-dismissed lawsuit Richards filed on behalf of the players against Jowdy.
“At that time, I trusted Phil Kenner,” Berard said. “He was my manager. I was playing hockey, and that is what I was focused on.”
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