Leader Blues

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

FROM THE PUBLISHER > >LR lawyer caught in subprime meltdown

Before there was a subprime meltdown, thousands of homes were sold to buyers who couldn’t afford the mortgages that went with them and middlemen lined their pockets with hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and fraudulent expenses.

Now financial institutions are owed at least a trillion dollars on homes that are almost worthless. The value of these homes was supposed to go up, instead of down, and the lenders couldn’t possibly lose on these deals, but their losses have helped push the U.S. into a recession.

An upcoming federal trial in Little Rock will shed some light on how these homes were sold back and forth as if they were McMansions, when, in fact, many of them were in the poorest inner cities and whose values were overinflated while the realtors and remodelers who sold them made huge profits before the real estate bubble burst.

One such case involves a Little Rock attorney named Alvin Clay, who is built like a defensive tackle — in fact, he is a former football player — but federal prosecutors think they’ll crush him for making fraudulent mortgage applications that made him and his partners more than $100,000 in profit.

He says he’s never seen those profits and he’s a victim of prosecutorial misconduct because he defended drug dealers the feds wanted to send to prison.

A multi-count indictment accuses Clay and his partners of keeping at least half the money they obtained from mortgage companies. If a home was worth just $35,000, they would finance it for $57,000 and sell it to buyers who had almost no income, the prosecution alleges.

A faith-based organization that exposed prosecutorial misconduct in Texas and Louisiana has sent a representative to Arkansas to help Clay fight the charges. They agree he may be the victim of prosecutorial overzealousness because of people he has represented.

Dr. Alan G. Bean, the executive director of Friends of Justice in Arlington, Texas, believes federal prosecutors have indicted Clay because he defended a Pine Bluff man who reneged on a deal with the government to testify against more than 50 alleged drug dealers in Jefferson County.

The man served time for perjury, but prosecutors had to drop charges against some 30 defendants.

Bean, a white Baptist minister, is convinced the feds were furious with Clay, who is black, for defending the former drug informant and for having another client “who was putting the government through unnecessary grief,” as Bean puts it.

Bean points out that thousands of mortgage companies that prepared loan documents for unqualified borrowers have not been prosecuted.

He calls the Clay case “selective prosecution.” The original prosecutor in the case was Robert Govar, who once headed the U.S. attorney’s criminal division in Little Rock. He no longer handles the Clay case.

Govar was demoted last year after making threats to this columnist for suggesting that Govar must have known he was illegally using prison labor on his property in Lonoke.

The prison labor, you recall, was provided by Jay Campbell, the former Lonoke police chief who was sentenced to 40 years in prison on corruption charges. (His wife received a 20-year sentence.)

Govar testified at the Campbells trial that he didn’t know he was breaking the law when he used prison labor, which will probably be Clay’s defense when he goes to trial on May 27.

Govar was taken off the Clay case for allegedly withholding exculpatory evidence from the Little Rock attorney, who faces disbarment if convicted.

Bean has helped free dozens of innocent people accused of selling drugs and committing other crimes.

Bean had a key role in two high-profile drug cases and the protests in Jena, La., over what civil-rights groups considered harsh treatment of black students following a brawl with white students who were accused of displaying a noose in front of their school.

His most famous drug case unfolded in Tulia, Texas, where a rogue undercover agent had falsely accused 46 people of selling him drugs. Charges were dropped after the case against the defendants fell apart, and Gov. Rick Perry later pardoned the defendants – the only pardons he has issued while in office.

Bean also helped free a family in Church Point, La., that was convicted on drug charges with tainted testimony.

“This stuff is happening all over the place,” Bean said. “There’s a real need for what I do. I try to look at it from a moral perspective so people can see connections different from the government, so it’s no longer the government’s narrative.”

Bean has strong words for the U.S. attorney’s office in Little Rock and Fort Smith. It will be the western district that will prosecute Clay, who should not have been indicted, Bean says.

“The case against Alvin is ill-considered,” the minister says. “They didn’t want him to be a thorn in their side.”

If he’s convicted, Clay faces five years in prison for each count, or up to 25 years, and $250,000, or double the money he allegedly made on the real estate deals.