Fordham Law


Joe Prebul Trial Starts Monday Morning

Professor Maurice Sercarz in The Chattanoogan.com, November 20, 2009

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The trial of former Chattanooga auto dealer Joe Prebul in New York City on federal wire fraud charges starts Monday morning.

A jury is expected to be selected on Monday morning and opening statements and testimony begin on Monday afternoon.

The first witness is expected to be Danny Bensusan, Prebul's brother-in-law, who is alleging that he transferred millions of dollars to Chattanooga to be invested. He said he later learned that Prebul had used much of the money to prop up his failing auto dealerships and for a lavish personal lifestyle.

Chattanooga attorney Tom Ray, who will be seated at the defense table, said he expects Prebul to be exonerated.

He said, "I don't think there is a devious bone in his body. I think this was all a misunderstanding. This case is very unfortunate for everyone concerned."

He said the facts of the case "are like a prism. You hold it up to the light and it looks one way. You turn it and it looks another way."

There will be additional testimony on Tuesday, then an adjournment for the Thanksgiving holidays.

The trial will resume the following Monday.

The main defense lawyers are Maurice Sercarz, who is also a Fordham University law professor, and his associate, Diane Ferrone.

Attorney Ray, who is representing Prebul in his personal bankruptcy, will sit at the defense table because of his intimate knowledge of the Prebul personal and business transactions.

Judge William Pauley III will oversee the trial.

Prebul, 48, of Signal Mountain faces 11 counts of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud. Each of the counts carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of the greater of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.

A criminal complaint had been filed against him Feb. 10 in New York after his music mogul Bensusan went to authorities saying he had been bilked out of millions of dollars. He was indicted on the charges in April.

His Prebul Auto Group filed for bankruptcy, and it has been split up and sold. He recently filed for personal bankruptcy.

The government is seeking to use tapes made by the Bensusans of conversations with Prebul. Defense attorneys said Prebul was not aware he was being taped on any of the calls with the Bensusans.