SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – The leader of Global Aquaponics pled guilty to 18 felony counts. Now, one of his business partners is now on trial for fraud.
The federal fraud trial of Tim Burns got underway on Tuesday. Burns is a long-time Brookings developer.
The Global Aquaponics fish and vegetable farm was proposed for south of Brookings and Burns’ construction company was supposed to build it.
The government says the whole thing was a scheme by both Tobias Ritesman and Burns to defraud investors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and use the money for themselves.
While the prosecution says Burns was in on the scheme, his defense attorney, Mike Butler, told the jury that Burns is just another victim of Ritesman.
“He didn’t just fool investors, he fooled Tim Burns,” Butler said.
Butler said that Burns was heavily invested in the company himself and lost more than anyone else.
Butler said Burns spent money he had raised from investors in the project on his own businesses, but thought it could be resolved when Ritesman paid him $1 million to begin construction on the project.
That never happened and the project was never built.
Butler told the jury that Ritesman fired Burns as COO at the end of 2016.
A former financial advisor who went to work for Global Aquaponics to sell shares in the company to investors also took the stand. Jeremiah Charlson told the jury he took his direction from Tim Burns and unknowing passed along information that wasn’t true to investors.
Charlson said that he believed that Global Aquaponics had nearly $6 million based on information he got from Burns. The prosecution produced an email as evidence in which Burns told Charlson much of that money had gone to purchase the green house and equipment for the facility. But when Charlson asked for balance sheets and receipts, Burns said he had to “clean up the account” and “it was not for public consumption.”
Ritesman testified when he plead guilty that Global Aquaponics never had nearly $6 million that it said it did to start the company and attract investors.
An FBI agent and the Assistant Director for the State Division of Insurance testified in court Tuesday.
Former Board of Regents President and state legislator Dean Krogman introduced Burns and Ritesman. He also purchased the land the facility was to be built on, even though Ritesman had claimed they already owned the land.
Krogman is expected to testify in Burns’ trial as well as other former Global Aquaponics’ executives.
Burns’ trial is expected to last through Monday.