Advertisement
News

Chapman images at odds in opening statements

The defense team's Nathan A. Chapman Jr. is a local boy made good, the son of a seamstress and a porter who used education and his charm to climb to the top of his city's business world. He is the American dream, a black child of Baltimore who ended up with his companies' offices spread across the 28th floor of the harbor's World Trade Center. This is a man being prosecuted for bad business luck, by a U.S. attorney's office that has made known its desire to bring public corruption cases.

But the prosecutors' Chapman is much different. This is a man of greed, a guilty man swept up in the decadence of the late 1990s, who couldn't be content with his $300,000 salary. He pillaged his companies and defrauded the state pension fund -- the retirement of teachers, police officers and firefighters, prosecutors emphasize -- to support his Corvette, his Giorgio Armani, his women.

Advertisement

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jefferson Gray and defense lawyer William "Billy" Martin gave their opening statements yesterday morning. The jurors, picked Monday, heard very different stories.

The first version they heard was Gray's. The prosecutor stood behind the wooden lectern, facing the jury box, barely moving as he outlined the government's case. He hardly turned to recognize Chapman, sitting between Martin and the others on his defense team.

Advertisement

This African-American business luminary is much different from his public image, Gray told the jury, and then described the charges laid out in the government's multi-count indictment.

Chapman looted his companies, Gray said, using "business development" checks as his personal cash flow. Without anyone in the publicly held companies knowing, he used those funds to buy gifts for women and to support a lifestyle beyond his already considerable means, he said.

Chapman tried to pump up the price of stock in his businesses by using money entrusted to him on behalf of retired state employees, Gray said, in part by manipulating Alan B. Bond, a New York money manager who has since been convicted of fraud.

Like Bond, Gray said, Chapman was motivated by envy and self-indulgence. "You could say that this was a case about two men who were not what they appeared to be," Gray said.

He talked about Debra Humphries, the pension trustee alleged to have had a romantic relationship with the married Chapman. Chapman used his connections with former Gov. Parris N. Glendening to get Humphries on the pension system's board of trustees, Gray said, and then showered her with gifts and money. Chapman knew Humphries would not disclose those gifts and would not recuse herself from discussions about Chapman's business interests, Gray said.

The $30 billion pension system lost almost $5 million because of Chapman, Gray said.

After an hour, a time closely monitored by U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles, Gray ended his presentation.

It was Martin's turn to take his place at the podium.

Advertisement

The defense lawyer began by telling jurors about his Chapman, the Polytechnic Institute graduate who went into the Air Force and then entered the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; the man who dreamed of creating his own business, of working in the stock market.

Pacing slightly, Martin talked about Chapman's success, how by the late 1990s Chapman owned stock worth $40 million to $50 million. "This man was not broke," Martin said. "This man didn't need to come up with a scheme to steal funds."

Chapman had hired the best lawyers and auditors money could buy to regularly evaluate his companies, Martin said, and had given his accountants full access to travel, business development and other financial records. Any irregularities in accounting were not intentional, he said.

With the public offering of his third company, eChapman.com -- the business move tied to the pension fund's losses -- Chapman was a victim of horrible timing, not a perpetrator of crimes, Martin said. "We all know what happened in 2000 with the dot-coms," he said.

The charges involving Humphries, Martin said, are an attempt by the government to make jurors angry with Chapman by introducing the fact that he had affairs.

"I suspect Mr. Chapman will have to answer to his wife and his God," Martin said, "but not to you in this courtroom."


Advertisement