LOS ANGELES: "It's not a complicated case," said prosecutor Cheryl O'Connor, when making opening statements in the conspiracy and fraud trial of former Fleishman-Hillard executives Doug Dowie and John Stodder in Federal Court.
"It's third-grade math; first-grade morals."
O'Connor described the government's case in both specific and rudimentary terms to the jury.
When someone puts on a black mask and steals your money, it's robbery; when someone puts on business suit and does [the same], it is fraud, she said in her opening comments. "And that's what happened."
The prosecutor, characterizing Dowie as a fraud "ring leader" between 2000 and 2003 by padding books, accused him of instructing FH staff to "write up" accounts to meet month-end goals for clients like the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, World Wide Church of God, and the Los Angeles Port Authority.
She also included Stodder in her chiding, citing a September 2003 email that he sent to an employee to urge boosting the monthly charge to the Church of God account from $22,000 to $29,000.
When the employee balked, O'Connor said, Stodder wrote, "FHLA [Fleishman Hillard, LA] isn't a taxi cab."
Dowie's lead attorney Tom Holliday said his client was no kingpin, but a pawn who was taking orders from the top. He made the point by using some of the very same e-mail the prosectuion used, arguing that "writing up" has other meanings than "pad."
He painted his client as a tough manager, noting that he was a Marine and Vietnam veteran.
"This isn't some secret Dowie came up with," he said. "He did not bring it back from Vietnam."
Stodder's attorney Jan Handzlik argued that when Stodder arrived, Fleishman billing was dysfunctional, a "pressure cooker."
O'Connor accused Stodder of pressuring staffers to pad bills.