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Lawyer deals blow to ex-clients in hockey fraud trial

The case against Phil Kenner gets help Monday from the alleged hockey fraudster's former lawyer.Handout

The case against Phil Kenner gets help Monday from the alleged hockey fraudster’s former lawyer.

CENTRAL ISLIP, L.I. — Beverly Hills attorney Ronald Richards helped federal prosecutors connect the dots Monday in the trial of two former clients accused of scamming millions of dollars from 19 NHL players and other investors.

Richards represented alleged con men Phil Kenner and Tommy Constantine, charged with wire fraud, conspiracy and money laundering, when they told players who invested in real estate projects and other investments that the deals had failed to pan out because a golf resort developer had refused to pay back a $ 5.5 million loan.

Prosecutors say Kenner and Constantine actually used the players’ millions to fund lavish lifestyles, seed business projects and pay off their own legal bills. When the players began to ask questions about the investments, Kenner and Constantine convinced them to contribute another $ 250,000 each to a “Global Settlement Fund” that would be used to wage a legal war against the developer, Ken Jowdy. Instead, prosecutors say, Kenner and Constantine squandered that money, too.

Richards, who administered the fund through his firm’s escrow account, corroborated the government’s arguments and confirmed testimony from earlier witnesses Monday when he said that Constantine directed him to use GSF money to pay bills completely unrelated to the battle with Jowdy.

Richards said Constantine told him to send $ 10,000 in 2009, for example, to Arizona lawyer Lynne Lagarde’s firm. Lagarde testified that she was paid from Richards’ account after Constantine got into a legal battle with Scottsdale officials, who objected when Constantine landed a helicopter on his property.

Richards also corroborated testimony from bank official Richard Rozenboom, who said Constantine used hundreds of thousands of GSF dollars in an attempt to renovate and purchase a private airplane that Kenner had put up as collateral for loans totaling $ 1.3 million. Richards also testified that Constantine, an aspiring race car driver, told him to wire $ 450,000 to a motor sports company.

Richards has not been charged but he had been deeply entwined in his former clients’ business affairs for years. The trial was delayed for several hours while Richards’ attorney, Anthony M. La Pinta, and Justice Department officials negotiated a proffer agreement that bars the feds from prosecuting Richards for statements he made under oath.

Richards, however, grinned through much of time on the witness stand. He made the jury laugh — and made U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco smile — when he explained why he withdrew a lawsuit against Jowdy on behalf of 19 NHL players in 2010.

Richards had claimed at the time that he dropped the suit because depositions had been scheduled at the same time as the Olympics (even though many of the players were retired at that point and only one client was on an Olympic squad). But he acknowledged Monday that he dropped the case in part because of the cost and time involved.

“Sometimes trials go longer than expected,” Richards told weary jurors in the six-week trial, which is expected to continue for at least another two weeks.

Prosecutor Jim Miskiewicz wasn’t laughing when he snapped at Richards after the attorney looked at Kenner — who frequently nods at favorable testimony — while struggling to answer a question: “I would like you to answer the question without looking at Mr. Kenner!”

Miskiewicz’s outburst drew a rebuke from Bianco, but it also emphasized for the jury the prominent role Richards has played in the case.

Prosecutors said they will rest on Tuesday, and Kenner’s attorney Richard Haley is expected to call his client to the witness stand some time this week.

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