LaShawn Pettus-Brown, the Cincinnati-area “promoter” who promised to redevelop the Empire Theatre but was instead convicted of wire fraud and money laundering, is off the hook. A federal judge threw out his November conviction on a technicality January 18th.
Pettus-Brown was accused of defrauding the city of more than $184,000, which was earmarked for renovating the theatre. He disappeared and was caught by the FBI in New York a year ago. Meanwhile, the 94-year-old theatre was demolished.
In her decision, U.S. District Court Judge Sandra Beckwith said it was apparent Pettus-Brown “perpetrated a calculated and sophisticated fraud on the city of Cincinnati” but he was still acquitted on a “technical, but important” legality, according to The Cincinnati Post.
Although the basketball-player-turned-developer was probably guilty of defrauding the city, Beckwith said, prosecutors failed to prove that when Pettus-Brown transferred the money to various bank accounts, it was part of a money laundering scheme.
According to the “technical and narrow, but nonetheless important legal point,” prosecutors should have proven the money transfer “furthered or advanced the scheme to defraud,” Beckwith reportedly ruled. Because the fraud was “complete” before the money transfer, the prosecution hadn’t made its case.
The six counts of wire fraud and money laundering each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Two counts of theft were dropped by federal government prosecutors before the trial began, according to the Post.
“[Pettus-Brown] is correct in arguing that the fraud was complete once he obtained the money from the city,” the judge ruled, according to the paper. “[His] mere expenditure of stolen money by means of a wire transfer is insufficient to establish the ‘in furtherance’ element of wire fraud.”
The city had already obtained a judgment against Pettus-Brown for $184,172, the Post said, but the new ruling threw everything into doubt.
“I’m not sure what’s there but, obviously, we have to keep fighting for it,” council member David Pepper told the paper. “My interest is that we get every dollar back that we can.”