MIAMI — Millionaire industrialist Victor Posner was granted a new trial on Monday on his income tax evasion conviction but expressed doubts that he will ever receive a fair hearing because of the complex nature of the case.
U.S. District Judge Eugene P. Spellman lashed out at jurors for not informing him of prejudicial information that they were exposed to during the trial, including newspaper accounts, in ordering the retrial.
"My initial action was one of outrage; then indignation, then bewilderment," Spellman said. "I spent more time than usual admonishing the jury not to read or view anything about the case on television."
Posner, 67, one of the highest paid executives in the country, faced 40 years in federal prison for his July 18 conviction of evading $1.2 million in taxes by overvaluing 22 acres of land that he donated to Miami Christian College in the late 1970s.
"The jury didn't understand what the case was all about," Posner said outside the courtroom before Spellman's ruling. "These people on the jury are making $150 a week. They're poor people. They just didn't understand." He said there had been nothing wrong in his land donation to the college and was incredulous that charges had been brought against him.
"I gave it to (the college) for $3 million and they sold it to a developer for $3.3 million," the white-haired Posner said. "They sold it for more than the value we'd placed on it. That's in the court record."
The government argued successfully during the trial that Posner made the donation on the condition that he receive an inflated land value estimate from the college that he could use as a writeoff on his tax returns.
Within days of the verdict, however, jurors were quoted in news accounts as saying they had been exposed to various facts about the case during the trial that were not admitted into evidence.
As a result of the reports, Edward Bennett Williams, Posner's chief defense counsel, asked Spellman for permission to file a motion to interview the jury and question them about possible irregularities.
In interviews with jurors, Spellman discovered that the foreman, Roger Bach, read newspaper articles linked to the case, including one revealing that Posner's co-defendant, William Scharrer, had been convicted in a separate trial.
Scharrer, head of a Miami real estate firm, was convicted on Aug. 14, 1984, of aiding and abetting Posner in filing false tax returns and was sentenced by Spellman to 18 months in prison. He has remained free pending appeals.
Bach told another juror about Scharrer's conviction, and the information later was blurted out by a juror during deliberations, the judge found. Another juror drove to the property in question, contrary to court orders, and told the others.
"Mr. Bach was the biggest violator of them all," Spellman said. "I hope that if he's ever asked again to be on a jury, he will pick up his hammer and go back to carpentry."
Based on these indiscretions, Spellman ordered a retrial and scheduled it for April 6, 1987, after the defense waived its right to a speedy trial. Jurors will be sequestered, the judge said.
During the 45-minute hearing, Posner told the judge that he felt "the publicity that has occurred not only here, but on a national basis, has made it very clear" that it would be difficult for him to receive a fair trial. Posner said he believes that Scharrer is also innocent and that he was convicted on the thinnest of evidence.
"What was he supposed to get out of it?" Posner asked.