A Los Angeles man, charged with defrauding a Moorpark couple of their Santa Paula RV dealership and writing a bad check to buy a San Diego hospital, is a con artist who used his charm to cheat people, a Ventura County prosecutor said Tuesday.
Liam Patrick Russell, 34, went on trial Tuesday on a 36-count indictment that charges him with committing a series of white-collar crimes in 1990 and 1991. He faces a maximum term of eight years in prison if convicted.
"Mr. Russell is a very persuasive person, and he's very good at getting people to trust him," Deputy Dist. Atty. James Cloninger told the jury during opening statements of a trial expected to last at least seven weeks.
Most of the charges stem from Russell's attempt to buy Ron's RV Sales from Ron and Kathie Hauman of Moorpark in April, 1990.
Cloninger said Russell gave the Haumans only a fourth of the $80,000 he agreed to pay for their business. Russell wound up looting the business of more than $100,000 in cash and most of its inventory, the prosecutor said.
Russell also defrauded customers of the business and failed to pay $32,000 in state sales tax, among other crimes, Cloninger said.
"What Mr. Russell did was loot this business from within," Cloninger said.
In a separate charge, Russell allegedly wrote a $250,000 check in July, 1991, as the down payment for General Hospital of San Diego from an account that never held more than $8,200.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Jonathan J. Kissel of Tarzana said most of the business ventures in which Russell was involved failed because of the recession, not fraud. He portrayed Russell as a businessman whose luck fell with the economy.
Kissel also told the jury that the case against Russell should be tried in civil court, and not by a criminal prosecutor.
"There's no question there are losses, but what it really comes down to is Mr. Russell's intent," said Kissel, who argued that Russell had no criminal intentions.