Ryan likely won't be paid from Hood's account
Houston lawyer still considering defending Hood; one expert witness revealed
BY CARL WALWORTH
URBANA - After a Texas lawyer on Wednesday indicated he'll likely soon be representing Clyde D. Hood, Hood's former defense lawyer lost a bid to be paid from a trust account prosecutors say has illegally obtained money.
Hood is the Mattoon man accused of creating and then operating what prosecutors describe as phony investment scheme called Omega in which at least 10,000 people lost at least $20 million from the purchase of $100 units in what was described as an offshore debenture investment. The units were to pay $5,100 in about nine months.
The status hearing Wednesday before federal Judge Michael McCuskey was for all 19 defendants accused of various roles in either soliciting or illegally using money collected through Omega, though seven were excused from attending.
McCuskey denied a motion by Hood's former attorney, Steve Ryan of Mattoon, to convert $21,321.02 from a trust account held at the law office to pay part of Hood's legal fees. McCuskey ruled the money should stay in the account until after the trial, at which time there should be a hearing to determine whether Hood may use the funds to help pay his defense.
Ryan argued that federal courts have allowed use of potentially forfeitable assets for attorney fees. In this case, the money was deposited in the trust account prior to Hood's indictment in August.
Prosecutor Steve Sanchez disagreed, arguing that the money in the trust account came from three separate $10,000 deposits that can be traced to the fraudulent Omega scheme, and therefore are subject to forfeiture and are frozen until the case is resolved.
Ryan hasn't submitted a bill for his services through January but offered to have the judge review an itemized bill in chamber. At $200 per hour, the trust account would have been only a partial payment.
Back in August, $5,000 was taken from the account to help pay the retainer fee of Champaign lawyer Steve Beckett, who represents Hood's wife, Patricia, in the case.
Ryan said after the hearing he disagrees with the ruling but probably won't appeal.
Earlier, Doug McNabb, a Houston lawyer who specializes in federal criminal defense, told McCuskey that he likely will enter his appearance to represent Hood. "I'm cautiously optimistic that should take place in the next week to 10 days," McNabb said.
In the meantime, Jeff Page of Springfield has been appointed as Hood's lawyer after Ryan was forced to withdraw because of a possible conflict. McNabb said after the hearing he has met with Hood and wants to take the case.
Earlier, McCuskey ruled on pending motions filed in the criminal case.
He again rejected efforts to have a separate trial for one or more defendants. Susan Engel Hoehne and James Turner are the latest to ask for a separate trial.
McCuskey ruled, as he has on previous occasions in this case, that the trial judge has substantial discretion on whether to allow separate trials. Appellate court rulings say there should be separate trials only if there is a "serious risk" that a single trial would compromise a significant right and can't be remedied by an instruction from the judge.
The trial is scheduled to start in early May and continue for two months. There is to be one trial for all 19, who then would receive individual verdicts. Prosecutors say they would introduce substantially the same evidence against all defendants even if there are multiple trials.
McCuskey denied several motions on behalf of defendant Michael Kodosky, including a motion to dismiss several counts. McCuskey said Kodosky may renew a motion that he's physically unable to assist in his defense if Kodosky presents more evidence.
Kodosky submitted a letter from a doctor that he must take dialysis three times a week and soon will take dialysis four times a week. In their response, prosecutors noted Kodosky's physical condition didn't keep him from "stealing" more than a million dollars from unsuspecting investors in the months leading up to the indictment last August.
The government also revealed one of the expert witnesses it expects to call at trial, Herbert Biern of the Federal Reserve Bank in Washington, D.C.
On Wednesday afternoon, Magistrate Judge David Bernthal ruled that defendant Billie Wilson should remain in federal custody pending trial. Wilson, 69, was at-large from the time the indictments were unsealed in August until he was arrested in January in North Carolina.
In addition to Wilson, Hood, Chris Engel and Arlene Diamond remain in custody pending trial.
The next hearing for all defendants is set for 9:30 a.m. April 11 in Urbana.