Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Trial begins for Middletown man charged with two deception schemes

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Chad Copeland was a con artist who passed millions of dollars' worth of bad checks between two banks to "artificially inflate" his account, Assistant Prosecutor Dan Ferguson told a Butler County jury Tuesday.

Copeland also promised to invest a Middletown couple's $150,000 life savings - and instead used much of the money to buy a house for himself, Ferguson said.

But Copeland's lawyer, Frank Schiavone, said investors should blame their own greed and the 2001 stock market's post-Sept. 11 plunge for their losses - not Copeland.

Copeland, 37, of Middletown, is standing trial on 23 criminal charges - including 10 first-degree felonies that could put him behind bars for 10 years apiece. A jury of three men and nine women began hearing testimony Tuesday in Butler County Common Pleas Court. Lawyers predict the trial before Judge Keith Spaeth will last at least a week.

Fourteen charges against Copeland relate to Tom and Connie Kerr of Middletown: aggravated theft by deception, grand theft by deception, money laundering, nine counts of securities misrepresentation and two of failure to disclose risk to investors. The other nine - a count of aggravated theft by deception and eight counts of passing bad checks worth at least $100,000 each - stem from an alleged separate scheme to cheat banks.

But Schiavone says his client was serious about starting a legitimate business. He showed jurors a metal baking form, which Copeland developed to make a toasted hot dog bun, "U-shaped" to better hold its contents. The buns would be sold in a new restaurant chain, Hot Diggity Dog, and connected to other businesses.

Ferguson called those plans "a sideshow." There are two separate sets of facts in the case, he said: those that Copeland showed people and those "that were going on behind the scenes, the things that only Chad Copeland knew about."

Ferguson urged the jury: "Stay focused on the main show; stay focused on following the money."


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