Elderly victims of alleged fraud at hard-money lender Global Express Capital Corp. are dying while the federal court struggles to prevent continual delays in the trial.
In the last of about 10 postponements over the last three years, a criminal trial was delayed Wednesday until Oct. 12, because defendant Connie Farris, former owner and operator of the investment firm, broke her leg.
Farris is charged with 63 counts related to fraud at Global Express between 2001 and 2003.
Like other hard-money lenders, Global Express solicited investments from individual investors and used the money to make loans to developers willing to pay double-digit interest rates.
The company became insolvent. A receiver said the company had $44 million in claims but only $15 million in assets.
In 2009, Farris was scheduled to begin trial but said she needed knee surgery. Chief District Judge Roger Hunt directed her to wait until after the trial for knee surgery, but Farris underwent the surgery. Her defense attorneys were allowed to withdraw.
Hunt appointed a federal public defender to represent Farris.
In late March, federal public defender Franny Forsman asked for another delay so that her office could adequately prepare for the complex trial. She said the case is so complicated that 10 attorneys had been unable to complete research.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Shiess said the repeated delays made it difficult to prosecute the case, because some of the victims who could testify are dying, are no longer able to travel or are losing their mental sharpness. He said one person was 96.
Hunt agreed with Sheiss in part, but said he didn't know why prosecutors wouldn't depose elderly witnesses as Forsman suggested. But he also said the defense should be ready for trial if it is ready for depositions.
"The public, the victims in this case, also have a right to a prompt trial, to having this matter brought to justice," Hunt said.
Defense attorney Shari Kaufman didn't return a call for comment Monday.
After reviewing medical documents, Hunt postponed the trial until Oct. 12. However, the judge ordered Farris to be present in Las Vegas and to confirm her presence in Las Vegas no later than 10 a.m. Oct. 11 in a call to the courtroom administrator. If Farris misses the deadline, Hunt will issue a warrant for her arrest.
If she is still in a medical facility, Farris will be moved to a local federal medical center "where her condition can be monitored and she can be safely kept to avoid further accidents," the judge ordered. If that happens, Farris will remain in custody throughout the trial, Hunt said.
Contact reporter John G. Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0420.