Jurors had little trouble finding four other people guilty in a mortgage fraud scheme, but they just couldn’t agree on how much Rabbi David Avigdor knew about what was going on.
That’s how a jury foreperson explained what happened Tuesday in Hartford federal court, where a judge declared a mistrial for Avigdor.
The jurors were considering the fate of Avigdor and four other defendants accused of taking part in a 15-member conspiracy that defrauded government and private lenders of millions of dollars and left blighted homes scattered through New Haven and surrounding towns.
On Tuesday afternoon, their fourth day of deliberations, the 12 jurors made a final announcement at 2:25 p.m.
The jurors said they could not reach a verdict on Avigdor, who’s a senior New Haven rabbi and attorney. They found his four co-defendants, including former alderman and state legislator Morris Olmer, and New Haven landlord Marshall Asmar, guilty of conspiracy, wire fraud and making false statements.
Judge Alvin Thompson in U.S. District Court in Hartford declared a mistrial for the rabbi.
“You’re excused if you’d like to leave,” the judge told Avigdor.
Avigdor (pictured) stood up and gave his attorney, Howard Lawrence, a fierce hug.
“I’m just thankful to God,” said Avigdor later, outside the courthouse. “I’m going to go back and continue with my calling to help people.”
With a mistrial due to a hung jury, the government has the opportunity to re-try the case against Avigdor. Prosecutors declined to comment on whether they will pursue that option.
Tuesday’s verdicts came after days of waiting at the courthouse by defendants and lawyers on both sides. It had been a week since the jury had begun its deliberations. Jurors were given Thursday and Friday off (Judge Thompson was away at a conference), after they delivered a note last Wednesday saying that they were unable to come to a decision on one or more of the counts. On Tuesday, they were still unable to come to complete consensus, hence the note that arrived at 2:25 in the afternoon:
“The jury wishes to report unanimous verdicts on each and every count with respect to each of four of the defendants. In addition, the jury reports a continuing impass [sic] on every count with respect to a fifth defendant.”
By 3 p.m., the jurors had filed back into the courtroom to deliver their verdicts. The foreperson signed off on the verdict forms and they were read aloud by the courtroom deputy.
Morris Olmer was first. He didn’t visibly react as the deputy announced that he had been found guilty of one count of conspiracy, eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of making false statements. The other defendants were similarly stoic as their guilty verdicts were read out. Asmar was found not guilty on several of the many counts against him, but guilty on the majority of the counts.
Outside the courtroom, Avigdor’s attorney, Howard Lawrence, offered his final word on the matter, a line from Shakespeare: “‘Praised be God, and not our strength, for it.’”
Avigdor pronounced Lawrence the finest defense attorney in the city of New Haven.
“Only the city?” Lawrence asked.
Outside the courthouse, Patrice Callender, the jury’s foreperson, said the deliberations were very thorough. “We didn’t want to rush to judgment,” she said.
The days of deliberation included “a lot of discussion, but not a lot of disagreement,” said Callender, who’s a fiscal administrator in the state Department of Banking.
The disagreement came on the case of Avigdor. With him, the question came down to how much he know of the whole conspiracy, she said. “It basically was how much was he involved.”
Callender declined to say how many jurors had been for or against acquittal for Avigdor.
Back inside the federal building, the now officially guilty parties waited for Judge Thompson to take up the matter of their release and sentencing dates.
Olmer sat in a chair in the stone-paneled second floor hallway, outside the South Courtroom.
“I’m very disappointed,” he said. “I’m very unhappy with this verdict. I certainly didn’t do anything the least bit illegal, immoral, or unethical.”