Witness problems prompt attorneys in Brett Parker gambling case to ask for new trial

nophillips@thestate.comSeptember 24, 2013 

Ben Staples

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com Buy Photo

— Defense attorneys in the federal gambling case against an Irmo bookie, his father and their associate have asked for a new trial in the wake of allegations against a key witness for the prosecution.

In a motion filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Columbia, defense attorneys for the trio said they should have been made aware of the claims pending against Ben Staples, a Lexington accountant and mortgage banker, so they could have brought them up during cross examination. Such a cross examination would have been allowed under law established in federal court precedent, the motion said.

On Friday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint against Staples and his son Oneal Staples, saying the two ran a fraudulent program designed to benefit from the deaths of terminally ill people. The complaint alleges that the Staples made $6.5 million in profits by lying about the ownership in bonds they purchased in joint brokerage accounts with people facing imminent death.

Those allegations were made public less than 48 hours after Staples testified on behalf of the federal government in the gambling trial of Brett Parker, Jack Parker and Douglas E. Taylor. All three were convicted Thursday of running an illegal gambling operation after a jury deliberated for about five hours.

Defense attorneys Kathy Evatt, Josh Kendrick and Tivis Sutherland said they should have had the opportunity to question Staples’ credibility as a witness before the jury. The allegations speak directly to the witness’s truthfulness, they wrote.

“It clearly shows that Staples has no problem with not only lying, but repeatedly lying,” they wrote.

The motion also said it is clear that the prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nancy Wicker and Winston Holliday, were aware of the pending allegations against Staples.

While lead investigators on the case were in Utah, attorneys from the U.S. Attorneys Office in Columbia are assigned to the case, the motion said.

“The timing of the filing of the complaint, the allegations in the complaint, and lawyers who filed the complaint all suggest that the Government was aware of the investigation into Staples,” the motion said. “This information would have formed the basis for a proper and powerful impeachment of Staples. It should have been disclosed to the defense in time for use at trial.”

The complaint against Staples does not carry a criminal penalty. Instead, the federal government is seeking to recover the estimated $6.5 million Staples and his son allegedly earned and to enforce fines against them. A second son is named in the complaint as having gained $400,000 his father earned through the scheme but was not part of the scheme, the SEC complaint said.

Under the alleged scheme, Ben and Oneal Staples operated the Estate Assistance Program between early 2008 and mid-2012. They recruited at least 44 people and purchased about $26.5 million from at least 35 issuers, court filings said.

Under the program, the Stapleses required participants to sign three documents, including papers relinquishing ownership to the bonds. Upon the person’s death, the Stapleses asked the brokerage firm to redeem the bonds early under a survivor’s option, which allows bond owners to cash-in bonds early should an owner die before they mature.

The Stapleses did not inform the brokerage firms or bond issuers that the deceased people and their estates no longer owned an interest in the bonds, the complaint said.

During the federal gambling trial, Staples testimony was used by prosecutors to prove that Brett Parker’s deceased wife, Tammy Jo Parker, was a participant in the gambling ring. Prosecutors needed to prove that five or more people were involved in the gambling operation to get a conviction.

Staples said he had helped Tammy Jo Parker prepare the family’s federal income tax returns where gambling income was claimed. He also told the jury that journals containing Parker family budgeting notes were written by Tammy Jo Parker and that she had counted on the gambling proceeds for living expenses.

Staples also testified about a secretly taped recording he made after meeting Brett Parker for drinks at a local Applebee’s. In that recording, Brett Parker discusses his gambling operation with Staples. The recording was made after Tammy Jo Parker and Bryan Capnerhurst, Brett Parker’s sports betting clerk, were shot to death in April 2012 in the Parkers’ home.

Staples was long-time friend of Tammy Jo Parker and admitted to what he said was a year-long affair with her. He also was a key witness in May in Brett Parker’s double murder trial in Richland County. Brett Parker was convicted of two counts of murder and is serving life without parole in a state prison.

In a Sunday telephone interview with The State, Staples said he had known about the investigation for some time. He called the federal allegations ridiculous and said his business was “not like it looks.”

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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