Abraham Kennard, on trial for fraud, tells jurors he wanted to help groups through a loan program.
With pointing fingers, sweeping gestures and an impassioned intonation, defendant Abraham Kennard told jurors Tuesday that federal prosecutors charging him with fraud mistook ďa dream for a scheme.Ē
In a 91-count indictment, the government alleges that Kennard headed up a multi-million-dollar advance-fee fraud scheme from May 2001 to October 2002 through the sale of memberships in the Network International Investment Corporationís ďChurch Funding Project.Ē
According to the indictment, Kennard promised members of the project that they would receive $500,000 in forgivable loans or non-refundable grants for every $3,000 in membership fees paid upfront. The scheme is said to have involved 1,600 churches and nonprofit organizations in 41 states.
Prosecutors contend that Kennard told members that a group of investors would fund the project, when in fact he had no investors and never intended to find any. He is charged with mail fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering and income-tax evasion.
But according to Kennard ó who delivered his own opening argument Tuesday after being awarded on Monday the right to represent himself ó the intention was always to repay members.
ďThere is no law against praying and trusting God,Ē Kennard told jurors. ďGod is the biggest financial backer you can ever have. And thatís who these people and Dr. Kennard put their trust in.Ē
Referring to himself in the third person and comparing himself to Jesus on the cross, Kennard described his ďvisionĒ to help small churches and organizations nationwide.
In response to allegations that he used profits from the scheme to fund his lavish lifestyle, Kennard told jurors there is nothing illegal about enjoying life.
ďItís not against the law to drive in a Cadillac if you donít want to drive a Volkswagen,Ē he said. ďYou can enjoy yourself.Ē
Kennardís oration followed opening arguments from Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Phillips and defense attorney Giles Jones, who had tried ó unsuccessfully ó to have his clientís case severed from Kennardís proceedings because he was ďfrightenedĒ that the jury ďcould not get over what could happen in this caseĒ if Kennard were to represent himself.
Jones is defending Laboyce Kennard, Abraham Kennardís brother and alleged accomplice in the fraud scheme ó the only other defendant on trial.
Co-defendant R. Scott Cunningham, the Dalton attorney accused of laundering Kennardís money, will face charges at his own, yet-unscheduled trial.
Alvin Jasper, Kennardís half-brother, was also allegedly involved in the conspiracy and pleaded guilty before the case went to court.
Jannie Trammel, who served as NIICís vice president of administration, also pleaded guilty on Tuesday, agreeing to a 36-month prison sentence on a charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Her final sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 15.
Both Jasper and Trammel have agreed to testify for the prosecution during the Kennard brothersí trial.
Prosecutors opened their case against the brothers Tuesday afternoon with the testimony of several bank officials who verified records to be used as evidence in the case.
They expect to continue to present evidence this morning, according to U.S. Attorneyís Office spokesman Patrick Crosby, including a videotape that Kennard made to attract potential project members.