By DEREK NORMAN
The prosecution dug deep into phone records of the professional sports gambler who continued to take his chances on trial in Manhattan Federal Court on Thursday.
Billy Walters, the famed Las Vegas sports bettor, was indicted on federal charges of insider trading last May after a four-year investigation by the FBI. Walters is accused of playing the market with his shares of Dean Foods, one of the nation’s largest dairy distributors, after consistently being informed on stock value fluctuation by the former chairmen of the company, Thomas Davis.
Thursday’s court session consisted of the Assistant U.S. Attorney Brooke Cucinella’s in depth reviewing of phone records between Walters and Davis, which was usually followed by immediate calls from Walters to his brokers, according to court documents.
Taking the stand to testify was an FBI special agent who spent years documenting the phone calls and organizing them according to the time-periods alleged in the indictment.
Most instances presented by prosecutors showed private emails within the Dallas-based food company discussing possible fluctuation in stock value, proceeded by phone calls from Davis to Walters, then Walters to his brokers; all of which occurred before any formal announcement of report by the company.
Walters, as an iconic figure in the sports betting realm, had many connections with famous athletes including champion pro-golfer Phil Mickelson, who was called to testify but refused by invoking his Fifth Amendment right.
Mickelson allegedly owed Walters millions as result of gambling debts, and is being accused of joining Walters’ in inside trades to repay that debt. Mickelson was not charged criminally, but agreed to pay $1 million to government to resolve a civil suit, according to reports.
The courtroom atmosphere was light as Walters confidently smiled and joked with his family and defense counsel. Jurors occasionally cracked jokes as well.
Walters’ attorney enthusiastically cross-examined the agent, pulling up charts that were submitted into evidence and pointing out that there were plenty of missing gaps in the time frames of the phone records. The defense continuously stressed the lack of a record showing Walters’ losses in the stock market.
“You didn’t calculate into the records the fact that there were losses!” said defense attorney Barry Berke, flailing his arms. “There were times the stock went down, my client sold, the stock went up… you just didn’t show that. Maybe because the government didn’t ask you to.”
Berke swiftly ran through slides of phone records showing dates that were not highlighted as he would raise his arm to each exclaiming, “That’s a loss! Another loss!”
“Maybe you just didn’t have a section in your charts to sum up the ‘avoided gains,’” joked Berke, referencing a column in the records where the agent added up the sum total “avoided losses” by Walters’ trades.
Jurors left the courtroom, and Judge Kevin Castel remarked to the defendant directly that Walters does not have to gamble on himself by taking the stand and giving his own testimony, regardless of his attorney’s advice.
“You appear to be an intelligent man, so there is something I need to mention,” said Judge Castel. “The decision to testify or not in a trial, is a decision that your lawyer cannot make for you. It is up to you and you alone. There should be no mistake.”
“Thank you, your honor,” said Walters in his signature southern drawl.
Court adjourned until Monday when the trial was scheduled to continue, as Walters again tries to beat the odds at a new game: the American judicial system.