Jury deliberations might start today in Donnan trial

A jury might start deliberations today in the Athens trial of former University of Georgia football coach Jim Donnan, who faces dozens of counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering in federal court.

Jurors must decide if Donnan conspired with West Virginia man Greg Crabtree to fleece investors out of millions of dollars in an elaborate Ponzi scheme.

Donnan’s defense is that he, too, was a victim of Crabtree’s lies when he convinced friends and family to invest in Crabtree’s salvage liquidation company, GLC Ltd. Donnan was just a “dumb salesman,” in the words of defense lawyer Ed Tolley.

The prosecution concluded its case shortly before noon Tuesday in the Athens courtroom. Donnan’s lawyers called four witnesses to the stand Tuesday afternoon. One more — businessman Nelson Bowers — will follow this morning.

When asked, Donnan told federal Judge Ashley Royal he didn’t intend to testify in his defense.

Prosecutors built a case that although GLC supposedly bought and sold salvaged goods, the company primarily used money from new investors to pay earlier investors — a Ponzi scheme.

Crabtree entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors in April and testified earlier in Donnan’s trial. He told the jury that Donnan knew he was using new investor money to pay previous investors, including many prominent Athenians and well-known college football and basketball coaches.

Some prosecution witnesses said Crabtree was not to be trusted, including one who described him as a “pathological liar.”

Crabtree faced spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted before his guilty plea. Now he could receive a sentence of five years.

One of the last prosecution witnesses to testify Tuesday was Gilbert Milner, an Athens resident in the business of estate liquidation. Milner became an investor and wound up losing about $110,000. He testified that GLC was sitting on a lot of valuable property when he visited the warehouse with several other investors.

“One wall was covered to a level of 12 feet with small apartment-style refrigerators, which are very highly desirable,” Milner recalled. “I made the comment, ‘I could move all these I could get my hands on.’”

The high rates of return investors got in the company were not unusual in this kind of business, at least for savvy buyers, said Milner.

“It’s a very risky business, but nevertheless, it can be very profitable,” he said.

When returns stopped coming in, Milner said investors decided to bring in a professional to restructure it. That person put the company in bankruptcy and liquidated the assets. Since then, some investors have been forced to pay back some or all of the profits they got from GLC and others got back just a fraction of what they lost.

Of Milner’s investment of about $121,000, he said he got back less than $10,000.

Some investors’ losses were much higher.

Former FBI agent Ray Kyle, who testified earlier, returned to the stand Tuesday to name the three largest winners among the dozens of GLC investors. The biggest winner by far was Donnan himself with an about $8.4 million return. He was followed by Donnan’s son, Todd, at $538,332, and Donnan’s son-in-law, Greg Johnson, with $484,812, Kyle told the jury.

Called to the witness stand Tuesday afternoon by Tolley, Todd Donnan told jurors he’d paid all that money back to be distributed to losing investors in GLC.

Jim Donnan has also paid back all he could, said Donnan’s bankruptcy lawyer, Ernie Harris.

Donnan or his bankruptcy trustee have paid about $2.9 million directly to GLC investors and $1.4 million to bankrupt GLC. Those funds are to be distributed to investors and pay for the considerable costs of administering the bankruptcy, Harris said.

Creditors lodged about $22 million in claims against the bankrupt company. Harris said about $14 million of that was investor money and the rest was expected returns.

Follow education reporter Lee Shearer at www.facebook.com/LeeShearerABH or https://twitter.com/LeeShearer.

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