Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Two former FourWinds Logistics employees painted a picture of a company culture of day drinking, lavish spending, and phony financials that led investors to lose millions of dollars in a company set up to sell fracking sand to the oil and gas industry.
Their testimony came Tuesday in the federal trial of state Sen. Carlos Uresti, who faces 11 counts of fraud, money laundering, and securities fraud for his role in luring investors to the company. If convicted, he could spend decades in prison.
Former FourWinds bookkeeper Laura Jacobs, the government’s first witness, pleaded guilty in 2016 to conspiracy to commit fraud. She told the court that she wasn’t promised anything specific for her testimony. “I have to tell the truth or my plea goes away,” Jacobs said.
For the next two hours, U.S. Attorney Joseph Blackwell had Jacobs explain the doctored documents FourWinds CEO Stan Bates allegedly used to paint a rosy financial picture for investors. Bates, who was originally a co-defendant with Uresti and company consultant Gary Cain, pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering shortly before the trial's start.
Among those documents was a forged bank statement that showed more than $18.7 million in FourWinds’ operating account. A balance sheet dated around the same time showed there was only $83,266.74 in the account.
“Did he [Uresti] ever question why the balance sheet would show $83,000 when the bank statement showed $18.7 million?” Blackwell asked Jacobs.
“No,” Jacobs replied.
“At any time did he ask you about the finances at all?” Blackwell asked.
“No,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs testified that she created false spreadsheets to mislead Denise Cantu, a FourWinds investor and Uresti's former legal client who lost about $800,000 investing in the fracking sand company. Those spreadsheets showed sand that was supposedly bought with Cantu’s investment when it actually was bought by other investors.
Cantu is a key government witness whom federal attorneys claim Uresti duped into investing nearly all of a settlement he secured for her following the death of two of her children in a rollover auto crash.
During cross examination, defense attorney Tab Turner tried to distance Uresti from company insiders such as Bates and Jacobs and two other FourWinds employees, Shannon Smith and Eric Nelson. All four have pleaded guilty to various fraud charges. Smith and Nelson are expected to testify this week.
“You actually blamed Mr. Bates for this entire situation, didn’t you?” Turner asked before presenting as evidence a text exchange between Jacobs and Bates prior to her testimony in FourWinds’ bankruptcy proceedings in December 2015.
“If you hadn’t spent money on crap like red bottom shoes and whores we wouldn’t be in this spot,” Jacobs wrote in the text. “And [you're] still spending money like you have more coming. You have never cared about my life. I told you last night that I contemplated suicide and [you] didn’t even comment. I told you I was desperate and no questions. If it doesn’t help you, you could care less about my life.”
Turner brought up the same doctored bank statement showing a balance of $18.7 million. He then showed the jury emails with that statement attached that was sent to investors. Those investors included San Antonians Richard and Sharlene Thum, owners of Five Star Cleaners, as well as a group of investors known as “the Mexico group.”
Turner asked Jacobs if the Thums or the Mexico group had anyone vet FourWinds before investing millions in the company. She confirmed that they did. The Mexico group even had one of its accountants, Hector Navarrete, occupy an empty office at FourWinds.
“Did any of these professionals question this $18 million?” Turner asked.
“Not to me,” Jacobs said.
She said she shared limited information with Navarrete on Bates’ orders.
“I gave him what Stan told me to give him,” Jacobs said. “He wanted full access to FWL’s accounts but we weren’t going to do that.”
“What information did you give him?” Turner asked.
“I gave him information pertaining to his investment,” Jacobs replied.
After nearly five hours of testimony, cross examination and redirect, the prosecution called former FourWinds office manager Desirée Talley. She also oversaw Bates’ personal account.
She testified about Bates’ spending on University of Texas football tickets, lavish trips, Lamborghini rentals, and parties with prostitutes.
“There were rumors we were running a brothel,” Talley said of FourWinds’ reputation in the oil and gas industry. That was because Bates preferred hiring “surgically enhanced women” to work at the company, she said. “They didn’t have experience in anything. They didn’t have a résumé.”
She also testified that she remembered Uresti telling members of the Mexico group that he was an investor in FourWinds.
“I’ve taken the risk and you should take the risk, too,” Talley recalled Uresti saying.
She said she believed he was an investor based on Bates’ boasts about the senator’s involvement in the company. Talley said Bates also bragged about talking with actor Matthew McConaughey and members of the San Antonio Spurs.
Uresti owned a 1 percent share of the company. He also was paid a monthly retainer to serve as FourWinds’ general counsel.
On cross examination, defense attorney Michael McCrum again tried to minimize Uresti's role in FourWinds, asking Talley to recount the names of the company's employees. He asked if Uresti had a key card for access to the building or if he ever signed checks or was issued a paycheck by the company. Each time, Talley replied in the negative.
“It was a good day, and the truth is coming out,” Turner said after court adjourned. “The jury will see Senator Uresti didn’t have any more information than the investors did.”
Defense attorneys will continue their cross examination of Talley on Wednesday.