MANHATTAN (CN) – Prosecutors, reporters, spectators, a defense attorney and a judge gathered in a federal magistrate courtroom twice this week for what they expected to be a Canadian contractor’s guilty plea to a fraud scheme involving lucrative World Trade Center contracts.
Larry Davis, the 63-year-old head of DCM Erectors, stood accused of lying to the Port Authority about hiring women- and minority-owned businesses to score nearly $600 million in contracts.
His personal cut amounted to tens of millions of dollars, prosecutors say.
Davis arrived at the arraignment room Tuesday only to leave without explanation before the hearing began.
When he returned to the same court on Thursday, Davis appeared to be primed to speedily admit to two counts of wire fraud and conspiracy that could have sent him to jail for 40 years and saddled him with a $250,000 fine.
U.S. Magistrate Judge James Francis informed Davis of the due-process rights that he would have waived with a guilty plea, and probed whether he made his decision with a clear mind.
Davis replied to a question about his drug or alcohol use by saying that he had only wine in the last 48 hours, and none today. After cursorily and nearly inaudibly reading from a paper of legalese admitting to the charges against him, however, Davis turned defensive when the magistrate asked a boilerplate question.
“At the time [of the alleged offenses], you knew what you were doing was wrong?” Francis asked.
“No,” Davis replied.
The brief response halted proceedings as Davis conferred with his lawyer Sanford Talkin, of the Manhattan-based firm Talkin, Multigrosso & Roberts, about how to proceed.
After repeating the same question and getting the same answer, Francis turned to Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Cohen for advice.
“Ms. Cohen, you have any suggestions?” he asked.
The prosecutor proffered a more specific question, essentially asking whether Davis lied about using minority-run businesses for the work and realized that this misrepresentation was wrong.
Davis’ answer led the hearing even farther astray.
“It was performed by a joint venture that the minority company was part of,” Davis said.
With that, the parties left the room for a brief recess, and plans changed after they returned.
“At this time, Mr. Davis is not able to proceed,” Talkin told the court. “Mr. Davis would like to apologize to the court and to the government and to everyone here.”
Remarking that there was “no offense taken,” Francis set a Nov. 1 date for a federal judge to move the matter toward a trial.
Davis shuffled off into a nearby conference room to avoid a gaggle of reporters, as Talkin said at makeshift press conference that his client decided to press his innocence.
“Everything that DCM did was approved and vetted and monitored by the Port Authority,” he said. “There was a ton of gray area here.”
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