After a five-day long trial, the fraud case against the COO of Global Aquaponics went to the jury. In around four hours, the jurors returned with a guilty verdict in the case.
Tim Burns is accused of taking investor money in the project and using it for himself.
On April 18, the man who came up with the Global Aquaponics scheme plead guilty to 18 counts of fraud. Tobias Ritesman is awaiting sentencing. In court, the federal government told the jury that Tim Burns was in on it with Ritesman. Burns claims he was the largest investor who also was a victim in the scam.
In closing arguments, the federal prosecutor showed the jury evidence where Burns had deposited investor checks into an account for the Global Aquaponics project, only to transfer the money shortly afterwards to his own business accounts.
Investigators followed the money and show it was used to pay off payday loans, credit cards, business vendors and that some of the money was personally withdrawn by Burns.
Burns’ bookkeeper took the witness stand Thursday. Jackie Volker said she was directed by Burns to sometimes wire money to cover checks for accounts, which didn’t have enough money in them. When she raised financial concerns, she said Burns told her to “do whatever you need to do to keep the business running.”
Prosecutors say Burns, “viewed the account as his own cookie jar,” and “this was greed that happened over and over again.”
Two men selling investments in the project testified they were given false information by Burns to tell investors. They said Burns told them he had purchased greenhouse equipment himself, when he had not; and that the company owned the land when it did not; and had nearly $6 million on hand when that wasn’t the case.
After the sales people started raising questions, Burns wrote a contract to himself saying he would receive the first $1 million of the project. Burns says that was just to be a down payment for his general contract work on the project.
That was never disclosed to investors.
On Friday, Burns testified that he believed everything he told investors and expected the project to be successful.
In closing arguments, his attorney told the jury that people in Ponzi schemes don’t have any skin the game, but that Burns had put in nearly $500,000 for the project and just made the same mistake other investors made.
Attorney Mike Butler said in hindsight, Burns shouldn’t have transferred investor money out of the account for other uses, but he never intended to defraud people.
Butler also tried to poke holes in the FBI’s investigation into Global Aquaponics and said that Tobias Ritesman had never implicated Tim Burns.
Butler asked the jury a rhetorical question: “Did you hear Ritesman testify? I sure wasn’t stopping him.”
The jury found Burns guilty of five federal counts of wire fraud and aiding and abetting. He will be sentenced at a later date.
Review a timeline of the Global Aquaponics scheme.