The trial of Michael C. Hild — the former CEO of defunct reverse mortgage lender Live Well Financial — for an alleged bond fraud scheme begins today, after being delayed by six months due to complications arising from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Ahead of the beginning of the trial, both Hild and his attorney have continued to indicate their hopefulness about the truth coming out during the proceeding, according to original reporting by the Richmond Times-Dispatch and court documents obtained by RMD.
As the trial begins, it is expected that two alleged co-conspirators in the case – former Live Well executives Eric Rohr and Darren Stumberger, respectively – will testify due to previous indications that the pair is cooperating with the United States government. The trial is expected to last several weeks according to estimates provided to the presiding judge by government attorneys.
Hild ‘looking forward’ to trial
The former Live Well Financial CEO is determined to ensure that all the facts come out at the forthcoming proceeding, according to statements issued to the Times-Dispatch provided by Hild’s attorney, Benjamin Dusing.
“He’s looking forward to his day in court,” Dusing told the Times-Dispatch. “It’s been a long journey. Now it’s about the facts and the law. […] It’s human instinct [to believe] where there’s smoke there’s fire. But we all know there’s always more to the story and from the defense’s perspective you don’t get to tell it until trial. To date it’s been pure allegations. This is when the truth comes out.”
After his initial arrest by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the summer of 2019, Hild pleaded “not guilty” to each of the five counts against him: of conspiracy to commit securities fraud; of conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud; of securities fraud; of wire fraud; and of bank fraud.
In a post made to his Facebook page earlier this month as detailed by the Times-Dispatch, Hild thanked his friends, his wife and his attorney.
“So it’s that time. I leave behind nearly everything and everyone I know today. Because I am unsure whether I will have the opportunity to see or speak to any of you again, I wanted to thank you for being part of my life,” he wrote.
The trial was originally scheduled to begin in October of 2020, but logistical difficulties on the parts of the Southern District Court of New York in Manhattan, the defense team and the prosecution team due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic delayed the start of the trial an additional six months.
It was detailed by the Court that the trial would be open via conference call to members of the public due to the necessity for limited capacity in the courtroom itself, but attempts by RMD to listen into the proceeding were met with repeated technical difficulties. According to a recently-released court transcript from the initial indictment last fall, government attorneys expect that the trial will last 3-to-4 weeks, to be overseen by District Judge Ronnie Abrams with a 12-person trial.
The first day of the trial was expected to largely consist of finalizing jury selection and the opening statements from attorneys for the government and Hild, respectively.
Alleged co-conspirators, concurrent cases
Alongside the charges levied against Hild by the federal government, Darren Stumberger, former Live Well EVP and Eric Rohr, former Live Well chief financial officer were also charged in the alleged scheme. Both men have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with federal authorities, according to an initial statement announcing the lawsuit by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In the case of Stumberger, Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey S. Berman filed a request with the court shortly before his dismissal from SDNY asking for a six-month delay of Stumberger’s sentencing date, since Stumberger is expected to testify in the trial against Hild. This is according to court documents obtained by RMD.
“The defendant has been cooperating with the government, but his cooperation is not yet complete,” Berman wrote in his letter to Judge J. Paul Oetken, who approved the request.
This pushed the date of Stumberger’s sentencing to December 18, though an additional letter to Judge Oetken from Berman’s successor Audrey Strauss requested to push his sentencing date again to June of 2021 to accommodate the revised schedule for Hild’s trial, which was also granted.
In the case of Rohr, he waived his right to be prosecuted via indictment in front of a grand jury and is instead being prosecuted by “information,” similar to an indictment but which would forego a trial in front of a grand jury. Rohr’s sentencing was delayed until August of 2021 for a similar accommodation to Stumberger which would allow him to testify in the Hild trial, according to court filings.
Hild also faces civil charges related to the alleged scheme from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), though that proceeding is on hold pending the result of the criminal trial that commenced today.
Live Well also has an ongoing bankruptcy case, which began one month after it was learned that the company had halted funding for new loans. Shortly afterward, three of the company’s former creditors sought to use the court system to force the remains of the company into involuntary bankruptcy, using apparent investigations being made by regulators and federal law enforcement as reasoning for seeking the court-supervised liquidation under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code. The court ordered Live Well into Chapter 7 bankruptcy in July, 2019.
Read the recent story at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.