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 “a dream for a scheme.”
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 Corporation’s “Church Funding Project.”
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 — who delivered his own opening argument Tuesday after being awarded on Monday the right to represent himself — the intention was always to repay members.
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“There is no law against praying and trusting God,” Kennard told jurors. “God is the biggest financial backer you can ever have. And that’s who these people and Dr. Kennard put their trust in.”
Referring to himself in the third person and comparing himself to Jesus on the cross, Kennard described his “vision” 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.
“It’s not against the law to drive in a Cadillac if you don’t want to drive a Volkswagen,” he said. “You can enjoy yourself.”
Kennard’s oration followed opening arguments from Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Phillips and defense attorney Giles Jones, who had tried — unsuccessfully — to have his client’s case severed from Kennard’s proceedings because he was “frightened” that the jury “could not get over what could happen in this case” if Kennard were to represent himself.
Jones is defending Laboyce Kennard, Abraham Kennard’s brother and alleged accomplice in the fraud scheme — the only other defendant on trial.
Co-defendant R. Scott Cunningham, the Dalton attorney accused of laundering Kennard’s money, will face charges at his own, yet-unscheduled trial.
Alvin Jasper, Kennard’s half-brother, was also allegedly involved in the conspiracy and pleaded guilty before the case went to court.
Jannie Trammel, who served as NIIC’s 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 brothers’ 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. Attorney’s Office spokesman Patrick Crosby, including a videotape that Kennard made to attract potential project members.