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Cockrell Lives in ‘Reverse Universe,’ Jurors Are Told

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Buckle your seat belts. . . . We are about to enter the reverse universe of Frank Cockrell.”

So began Deputy Dist. Atty. Mark Aveis’ closing arguments Tuesday in a white-collar crime case with all the ingredients of a bad novel: millionaires, fast cars, beautiful women, a twisted alleged plot and layers upon layers of alleged conspiracy.

Prosecutors assert that Frank Boyd Cockrell II bilked investors out of $1.4 million, then plotted to blow up the Ventura County Courthouse to destroy evidence in the case.

His defense lawyer, however, argues that Cockrell did his best to run a legitimate business with a cadre of millionaire investors--it just didn’t work out.

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The “reverse universe” of Cockrell, Aveis told the jurors, is a universe where others are to blame, Cockrell is always right and never wrong, and that he is the victim of others when it comes to business dealings.

“He wants you to believe he lived a charmed life until a few years ago,” Aveis said. “He wants you to believe he is surrounded by incompetents, even though he hired them. He says he trusted everyone--but those who trusted him shouldn’t have done so.”

Aveis paused a moment before continuing: “I am confident that all of you inhabit the real world. I want you to insist that he take responsibility for his actions.”

In what has been referred to as a case about “stocks, lies and audiotape,” Cockrell, 49, a Sherman Oaks financial consultant, ultimately lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of other people’s money in a bogus investment scheme he concocted, prosecutors charge.

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Cockrell faces almost two dozen counts in this trial, including charges of tax evasion, grand theft and money laundering.

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He will face separate charges in Los Angeles County of attempted murder and solicitation to commit murder in the alleged bombing plot. But Ventura County Superior Court Judge Vincent J. O’Neill ruled in March that testimony about the plot would be allowed in the fraud trial because it shows possible “consciousness of guilt.”

The Los Angeles County trial is scheduled to begin after the current case concludes.

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Faulting the prosecution for everything from an overly aggressive style to its “scattershot approach,” defense attorney Ed Whipple launched his closing argument Tuesday by telling the jury that Cockrell ran a legitimate business.

“My client didn’t have an intent to steal,” he said. “His business just failed--80% of the businesses in this country fail.”

Whipple added that it didn’t help Cockrell’s business when it was “attacked by a giant search warrant, that took all his papers and computers.” He was referring to a sting by the district attorney’s office, when investigators seized hundreds of boxes and thousands of pages of documents.

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While conceding that investors never recouped their investments, Whipple said records show that for nearly all the money that came into Cockrell’s business, almost as much went out--in payments to the IRS and his employees.

“Here’s the money in,” he said pointing to a chart. “Here’s the money out. Where’s the theft? The answer is, there isn’t any.”

The five-week trial has included testimony from investor Susan Forward, the author of “Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them,” a former Mr. Universe and a federal agent who posed as an anti-government militia man in meetings with Cockrell.

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The fraud case received unusual attention because of Cockrell’s alleged attempt to hire the federal agent to blow up the courthouse.

Cockrell was indicted two years ago by the county grand jury on charges of swindling investors. Investors were allegedly duped into believing they were buying stock in a company that sold surety bonds to minority building contractors involved with the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

The fraud case took an unexpected turn last September when an agent from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms testified in a special hearing that Cockrell had tried to hire him to bomb the Ventura County Courthouse to destroy evidence in his fraud case.

The jury will begin deliberations this morning.

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