Trial Nears End for Baptist Foundation of Arizona Execs


Arizona's assistant attorney general said Monday in closing arguments that neither defendant in the 10-month Baptist Foundation of Arizona fraud trial committed their crime for money.

William Pierre Crotts, the BFA's former president and CEO, lied to 11,000 investors about the foundation's true financial condition "out of pride," prosecutor Don Conrad said in his argument summing up the state's case against Crotts and co-defendant William Grabinksi.

 

Closing arguments were scheduled to conclude Tuesday. The case is expected to go to jury next week.

 

According to a report in the Arizona Republic, Conrad said Crotts didn't want to lose face with his father, who built the foundation started in 1948 to support Baptist work, or in the Baptist community at large.

 

"Bill Crotts was very trusted by our people," said Steve Bass, executive director of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, according to the article. The state convention and Baptist entities lost money, as well as churches that had invested their building funds.

 

"There was an incredible sense of hurt and mistrust that quickly turned to anger," Bass said. "How could an entity that related to the work of churches and missions do this to us?"

 

As for Grabinski, the former legal counsel, Conrad said, "Whether he does it to save BFA or to save his job, he still committed crimes."

 

The state accused the two men, along with five other defendants who have already pleaded guilty and one still awaiting trial, of conducting a "ponzi scheme," using money from new investors to pay interest owed to old ones, while creating the false impression the foundation was profitable by hiding losses in a web of subsidiaries and worthless loans.

 

Their deceit, prosecutors allege, wound up costing investors more than $550 million when the Foundation went bankrupt in 1999.

 

Defense lawyers argue there was no fraud, and their clients believed notes and properties being held by the Foundation would be valuable when a depressed real-estate market rebounded. The problem occurred, they say, because the Arizona Corporation Commission shut the operation down based on concerns reported in a series of articles in the Phoenix New Times.

 

The case is called the largest "affinity fraud" in history, a reference to crime targeting a specific group, in this case a religious body. It is the longest and most expensive case ever prosecuted by the State of Arizona, requiring dozens of expert witnesses and 32,000 documents filed into evidence.

 

Crotts, 61, and Grabinski, 46, are charged with three counts of fraud, 27 counts of theft and two counts of illegally conducting an enterprise. If convicted they could be sentenced up to 34 years in prison.

 

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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