Accountant witness in Parker murder, gambling trials named in alleged flimflam scheme

jmonk@thestate.comSeptember 22, 2013 

Ben Staples testifies during Brett Parker's murder trial inside a Richland County courtroom in May.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com Buy Photo

— A Lexington County accountant who was a key witness in the two recent Brett Parker criminal trials – one involving murder and the other a bookie gambling ring – has been named in a civil complaint by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, accused of operating a scheme to illegally profit from the assets of terminally ill people.

In all, accountant Ben Staples, 63, victimized some 44 dying people from 2008 through 2012 and converted an estimated $6.5 million of the terminally ill people’s assets to his use, the federal complaint said.

The 12-page civil complaint also named Staples’ son, Oneal Staples, 28, as a co-defendant.

Another son, Brian Staples, 25, was named as a “relief defendant,” meaning the government will be trying to recover any fraudulently gotten money that wound up in Brian Staples’ possession, the complaint says. Brian Staples had no active role in the scheme, the SEC said.

In a telephone interview Sunday, Ben Staples characterized the SEC allegations as “ridiculous.”

“There are two sides to every story. I hope people wait to hear them both,” said Staples, who said he was speaking for his sons as well.

Staples said he and his lawyer, Michael Montgomery, have been aware of the SEC’s investigation for some time and are puzzled by it.

“It’s all crazy what they are doing,” Staples said. “It’s not like it looks.”

As described in the federal complaint, Ben and Oneal Staples preyed upon terminally ill people, first identifying them as people “whose death was imminent and who were concerned about being able to afford the costs of their funeral.”

Then, Ben and Oneal Staples would offer “to pay for their funeral expenses if the terminally ill individuals agreed to open a joint brokerage account with the Staples,” the complaint says.

“In exchange, the terminally ill participant agreed to open a joint brokerage account with Ben Staples, Oneal Staples, or both,” the complaint says.

U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Bill Nettles said Sunday that the charges – which must yet be proven in court – represent a “particularly vile” kind of scheme.

“These victims are among society’s most vulnerable,” Nettles said.

The complaint says that after the terminally ill people opened joint brokerage accounts with the Staples, “the Staples required them to relinquish any ownership rights to any assets purchased in those accounts through the execution of side agreements.”

After gaining access to the brokerage accounts, and limited permission to buy and sell, the Staples bought bonds with a “survivor’s option,” which gave the Staples the right to redeem the bonds after the terminally ill person died, the complaint said.

Ben Staples was a key prosecution witness in both Parker trials.

In Irmo bookie Brett Parker’s trial in state court for murdering his wife, Tammy, and a friend, Bryan Capnerhurst, Ben Staples testified that he was Tammy’s former lover and that Brett Parker knew Tammy was unhappy in her marriage and had a sizeable life insurance policy. Prosecutors said this sufficed as motives for why the debt-plagued Brett Parker would kill his wife.

In Brett Parker’s federal trial on charges that he and others ran a gambling ring, prosecutors had to prove Parker’s gambling ring involved five people to show Parker ran afoul of federal gambling laws. Staples’ testimony that Tammy Parker was a member of the gambling ring gave the jury the legal basis for finding Brett Parker guilty of operating a gambling ring. Brett Parker is now in prison serving life sentences for murdering his wife and Capnerhurst.

On the witness stand in both trials, Staples cut an engaging figure – tall, lanky, with a big white mustache – self-confident and candid, even when he acknowledged his adulterous relationship with Tammy. Staples was also interviewed on NBC’s “Dateline,” which ran a national true-crime television show on Parker’s scheme to kill his wife and Capnerhurst.

The civil complaint in the Staples case was investigated by the SEC’s Salt Lake City regional office.

The Staples “turned the misfortune of others into a profit-making enterprise for themselves,” said Kenneth Israel, director of the SEC’s Salt Lake City office.

In Columbia, the complaint was signed by assistant U.S. attorneys Barbara Bowens and James Leventis Jr.

U.S. Attorney Nettles said the Staples matter signifies the start of an initiative by his office to target fraudulent white-collar schemes.

“I have long wanted to strengthen our relationship with the SEC,” Nettles said.

The complaint against Ben and Oneal Staples seeks to have them pay unspecified civil financial penalties, surrender “all ill-gotten gains” and stop them from engaging in future similar acts.

Ben Staples said Sunday that the allegations are baseless.

“You would think the SEC in all its wisdom would know what they are talking about,” he said. “They don’t like the fact that you’re making money.”

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344

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