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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Lawyer Found Guilty of Milking Widow’s Trust

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CN) - Federal jurors deliberated just three days before convicting former Alaska prosecutor Mark Avery of defrauding an elderly widow's trust of $52 million.

Avery, 56, was on trial for wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering for milking $52 million from an elderly widow's trust he was being paid to protect.

After sitting through 11 days of testimony describing how Avery spent $52 million in 2005 on homes, vintage planes, boats, RVs and personal loans in just six months, jurors at the Anchorage Federal Court spent another three days deliberating before reaching a verdict Monday afternoon.

Jurors found Avery not guilty on one of the five wire fraud counts, and could not unanimously agree on five other counts relating to whether on Avery had deceived two fellow trustees from the very first $15 million withdrawal on the trust-backed loan.

The jurors pegged the damage to the May Smith Trust at $31 million. They could not agree whether Avery's big-ticket purchases of making an interest payment on a loan from the trust - the loan was for Avery to start an air charter business - with trust money constituted money laundering.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline presided over Avery's trial, in which neither side disputed the spending of $52 million but rather Avery's Avery's intent and purpose.

"This case is about trust and betrayal of trust," Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder said at the start of the trial, a point Avery and his defense team denied.

"He did not lie or cheat to obtain the money," Avery's attorney Mike Dieni told jurors. "Trustees wanted to invest in an air charter as a new way to make money and to use themselves."

The defense also claimed that Avery was duped by some of the people with whom he chose to go into business, including Rob "Commander" Kane. Kane, who liked to be called Commander despite no record of military service, told Avery he had worked as an informant for the FBI and the CIA and that he was former Navy seal "who had killed people," Dieni said.

Kane was found not guilty in a separate case in 2006 involving federal weapons charges. The weapons in question were part of the cache of Czech-built military planes and associated weaponry that he and Avery purchased as part of their plan to secure federal security contracts.

In addition to Kane, jurors heard testimony from 20 government witnesses and five from the defense, including Avery - who ultimately lost everything and went bankrupt after hiring 100 employees and building up Security Aviation and his charter companies.

Both Avery and his attorney, Mike Dieni, declined to comment.

"A lot of people were really hurt by this case, by the money coming in. They relied on it for jobs. And it was just a fantasy," Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Skrocki, the lead prosecutor in the case, told Anchorage Dispatch News.

Avery and his top aides "had no business," Skrocki said.

"They had no business plan. They had no contracts. And by the time the raids happened in February (2006), they had no money. It had already been spent."

Avery's sentencing is scheduled for May 17. Until then he remains free under the pre-trial bail conditions.

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