Hild awaits judge’s decision after lawyers argue over acquittal or new trial
Almost exactly a year to the day after a jury found him guilty of running a bond pricing scheme at his now defunct Chesterfield mortgage company, Live Well Financial, Michael Hild has returned to the same Manhattan courthouse last month as part of his ongoing fight to avoid a federal prison sentence.
The embattled Richmond businessman and his legal team pleaded their case on April 29 before Judge Ronnie Abrams, arguing either for an acquittal of his earlier conviction or at the very least for a new trial, based primarily on the assertion that his former attorney was unfairly ineffective due to personal disputes.
And while he had to wait almost a year to present this argument to the judge in person, Hild – who remains free – must now wait once more to know his fate.
The judge did not rule one way or the other during the hearing, as she is now weighing whether Hild’s argument warrants a change of course in the case.
Abrams is likely to choose one of three paths: she could grant Hild’s request for a new trial or acquittal; dismiss his request, uphold the guilty verdict and set a sentencing date; or decide that more information is needed and request an evidentiary hearing.
Since the April 30, 2021 jury verdict, Hild and her new attorney have mounted an ongoing post-trial defense based on allegations of faulty legal representation by her former attorney. And that former lawyer, Benjamin Dusing, added fuel to Hild’s claims by getting into legal hot water on his own, including being suspended from practicing law, in part because of bar complaints filed by Hill.
Hild claims that Dusing, a childhood friend of Hild, hid from his client the fact that he was fighting two custody cases with two mothers of his children in his home state of Kentucky amid the three-week trial of Hill in New York.
Hild claims these custody cases were not only a distraction for Dusing, but also caused Dusing to fast-track the defense portion of the trial to ensure the case was completed in time for him to turn himself in. to a pressing audience in Kentucky.
At the recent April 29 hearing, Hild’s new attorney, Brian Jacobs of the New York law firm Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello, reiterated Dusing’s alleged conflicts, including a claim that he has no did not call an expert witness to testify on Hild’s behalf.
That expert, Jacobs said, would have extended Dusing’s case but could have rebutted some of the government’s evidence regarding the disputed value of Live Well’s reverse mortgage bonds. The value of these bonds is at the heart of the charges against Hild.
Abrams, during the hearing, tried to discern whether Dusing’s personal issues were really a real conflict.
“How is that different from so many lawyers having a lot of different cases at the same time?” the judge asked Jacobs, according to a transcript of the hearing.
Jacobs reminded the judge that Dusing faced potentially legal and professional penalties related to his custody battles with two separate mothers of his children.
“Each of those things, his personal culpability here, sets this case up significantly from the mundane case where a lawyer has multiple obligations,” Jacobs said. “This is his own case where he faces jail time, professional sanctions, personal consequences in the underlying custody dispute and potentially an investigation.”
“The decisions made during the defence, it is unclear whether these decisions were made in Mr. Hild’s interest or in Mr. Dusing’s interest to ensure that the trial ends as quickly as possible to protect his personal interests,” says Jacobs.
Abrams asked Jacobs if there was any legal precedent comparable to the Hild-Dusing case that could serve as a guide.
“It is an extremely rare situation. I don’t know if there’s another case in a circuit where the facts perfectly match this one,” Jacobs said.
Abrams agreed but asked where the court should draw the line in assessing when important issues in a lawyer’s personal life become a real conflict.
“The line is when it negatively affects performance…” Jacobs said in response.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Estes, who prosecuted Hild, disagreed with Jacob’s opinion.
“This is not a real conflict. It’s a scheduling issue,” Estes said of Dusing’s concurrent custody cases.
Abrams then posed another hypothesis, this time to Estes. “Let’s say you have a lawyer who has a vacation coming up in a robbery case and the lawyer doesn’t call an alibi witness because it would take too long and the lawyer would miss his vacation. Is this a real conflict? Abrams asked.
Estes urged caution in this line of thinking.
“If we expand the real conflict standard here, the defendants in each case are going to start firing their lawyers after the trial and saying ‘oh, he was concerned about child custody issues during the trial; he was worried about these other things during the trial, you know, he was worried about his sick mother during the trial.
“It really can’t be the norm, where we worry about the personal lives of defense attorneys after every case,” Estes told Abrams.
Estes, pointing to a lengthy affidavit Dusing filed after the trial after Hild’s allegations, said Dusing made his decisions during the trial based on strategy rather than personal conflict.
Abrams wondered if Dusing’s affidavit could be relied upon, given his recent legal troubles and license suspension. This saga includes Dusing threatening a judge and other lawyers in a bizarre and widely circulated online video.
“Can I trust his affidavit in light of all the various allegations? Can I, should I assume that’s true in every way? »
Estes replied that the answer is yes and wondered if Hild could be trusted at this stage of the case.
“The counter story here is a story presented by Mr. Hild, who has always presented himself as someone who is not credible and cannot be trusted,” Estes said. “I would just like to remind Your Honor that Mr. Hild appeared at trial, and we submit that he committed perjury.”
Estes alleged that Hild perjured himself on the stand when he testified about whether and when he knew the company’s reverse mortgage bonds were illiquid, and also linked to his testimony about his personal guarantees of debt from Live. Well.
Jacobs said a hearing is warranted so he can call additional witnesses, including paralegals who worked on Hild’s case with Dusing and the expert witness who never appeared at trial.
The judge entertained this idea by asking who each party would call as witnesses, before ending the hearing.
Hild faces a combined maximum sentence of 115 years in prison on charges including securities fraud, mail fraud and bank fraud, although her sentence is likely to be lighter. He also faces a maximum fine of $5 million.
The government has charged and arrested Hild for helping organize a scheme to defraud Live Well lenders by falsely inflating the value of a portfolio of reverse mortgage bonds, in order to induce lenders to lend more money at Live Well than they otherwise would.
Much of Hild’s defense at trial rested on the argument that the prices presented were based on their best estimate of their market value, despite being difficult to assess.
While Hild has pleaded not guilty, two of her former Live Well lieutenants – chief financial officer Eric Rohr and chief trader Darren Stumberger – have pleaded guilty to similar charges and are awaiting their fate. Their sentencing dates have been repeatedly pushed back due to their involvement in the Hild case as cooperating witnesses for the prosecution.
Meanwhile, Live Well’s bankruptcy liquidation is still ongoing. The bankruptcy trustee has filed several lawsuits, including against Hild, his wife Laura and more than a dozen business entities connected to the couple seeking to recover a total of $110 million in damages. The trustee alleges that Hild plundered the fast-growing reverse mortgage company by staging the scheme and that Laura helped her husband hide the proceeds by parking them in LLCs, all of which were in Laura’s name.
The Hilds have yet to file a response to the trustee’s complaint.
The trustee also sued Stumberger and Rohr, with the latter having recently settled the case.