Texas tycoons hid $550 million in profits offshore, U.S. tells jury

Thu Apr 3, 2014 3:20pm EDT
 
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By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Texas tycoons Sam and Charles Wyly employed a labyrinthine system of offshore trusts to conceal stock trades in four companies on whose boards they sat, netting themselves more than $550 million in undisclosed profits, a U.S. government lawyer told a federal jury on Thursday.

"This is a case about lies, deception and fraud," said Bridget Fitzpatrick, a lawyer for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, at the start of a civil trial in New York against Sam Wyly and the estate of his late brother, Charles.

The SEC has accused the Wylys of concealing stock trading from 1992 to 2004 in Sterling Software Inc, Michaels Stores Inc, Sterling Commerce Inc, and Scottish Annuity & Life Holdings Ltd through the use of more than a dozen trusts and 40 different entities in the Isle of Man.

But Stephen Susman, a defense attorney for the Wylys, told the jury that the brothers relied on an "army of lawyers" to tell them what they were legally required to do and never intended to violate any securities law.

"The Wylys acted in complete good faith - the exact opposite of being a liar and fraudster, as charged by the SEC," he said during his opening statement.

The trial, which follows years of litigation and investigation of the Wylys by the SEC, is the latest test of the regulator's ability to win verdicts against individuals, following a recent series of losses in fraud and insider trading cases.

The jury of eight women and four men will be asked to decide whether the Wylys controlled the securities held in the offshore system, as the government claims, or whether trustees had sole power to sell the stock, as the Wylys contend.

In her opening statement to the jury, Fitzpatrick argued that every transaction in the offshore entities originated as a "recommendation" from the Wylys that was effectively a command.   Continued...

 
Texas investor Samuel Wyly exits the Manhattan Federal Court in New York, April 3, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid