Denies intentionally aiding porn magnate in tax evasion
[UPDATE, 4:38 p.m.:]
Several well-known local personalities testified as character witnesses on behalf of attorneys Alan Saturn and Alan Mazer this afternoon.
Physician and author Frank Boehm, a former chairman of the medical ethics commission of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, spoke of Saturn as a man with "not a dishonest bone in his body." Former Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Marietta Shipley told the court Saturn "has a good character for truthfulness," an assessment echoed by Robin York, a Lebanon contractor who said Saturn's firm had closed the sales of 500 of his homes over the years, and James Roy Beller, a loan officer at PrimeTrust Bank.
Speaking up for Mazer were Metro District Attorney General Torry Johnson, who termed the his law-school classmate's character and veracity "excellent," along with David Johnson, a real estate broker in Old Hickory who said Mazer's "reputation is absolutely perfect and squeaky-clean." Bob Jackson, executive director of the Matthew 25 transitional housing program for homeless men, called his board chairman Mazer "a good professional person" and "a good spiritual person." Voicing similar sentiments were Alan Bolick, president of Special Olympics Tennessee, and Nashville dentist Steven Wolf.
Mazer took the stand late this afternoon to testify in his own defense. His testimony is expected to continue tomorrow.
As originally filed:
Nashville real estate attorney Alan Saturn, on trial along with law partner Alan Mazer and adult-entertainment proprietor Jerry Pendergrass over alleged income tax evasion and conspiracy to defraud the government, took the stand today at Nashville's federal court.
As the defense opened its case in the trial, Saturn sought to cast doubt on the government's accusation that he and Mazer knowingly helped Pendergrass conceal the sale of a Hickory Hollow-area property in August 2000. Peter Strianse of Tune, Entrekin & White, representing Saturn, took him through the background of the transaction as pages from Saturn's daily calendar were displayed on an overhead projector. The calendar was full of closings set for the period around when the Pendergrass sale was to be finalized.
"We're all over the lot during the summer," Saturn testified, noting that it's not unusual for his firm to handle 100 transactions a month in the warmer months. Just prior to the Pendergrass closing, Saturn had cut short a vacation to return to the office and help out as Mazer prepared for his daughter's wedding. At the time, Saturn said, he found himself as busy as a "one-armed paper-hanger."
The deed from the Pendergrass sale was not recorded with the Davidson County Register of Deeds, as would normally happen following the closing. Earlier in the trial, there was testimony about whether someone involved had instructed the attorneys to hold off on recording it. The Internal Revenue Service had a tax lien against Pendergrass, and Saturn and Mazer stand accused of helping him hide his ownership from the government and keep the IRS from seizing his proceeds from the deal. The point Saturn sought to drive home was that the failure to record the deed was an innocent mistake.
"There is no reason for anyone to think this was a criminal act," Saturn said. "Was it sloppy? Maybe. Negligent? Possibly. But for that I can only apologize."
Saturn said the transaction was worth about $1,000 in fees to his firm. He asked rhetorically: "Why would I jeopardize my career and reputation for that kind of money?"
Jenny L. Grus, a trial attorney with the tax division of the Department of Justice, began her cross-examination of Saturn with questions about how well he knew and how closely he was associated with Pendergrass. Saturn said the two were not acquainted socially. Grus pointed out that the firm of Saturn & Mazer had done 15 closings for Pendergrass in the year prior to August 2000 — a point to which Saturn retorted that the firm did some 1,100 closings a year and thus was in no way dependent on Pendergrass as a major source of business.
The cross-examination continued as this story was being filed.
Some of the character witnesses slated to appear for all three defendants were seen arriving and being escorted to the witness room this afternoon, though it was not immediately clear who had been called to testify for Saturn, nor whether Metro District Attorney General Torry Johnson, listed as a character witness by Mazer, was among those arriving. Among the spectators noted in the gallery were veteran real estate attorney Robert N. Buchanan III of Stites & Harbison and George C. Paine II, chief judge of Middle Tennessee's U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
This article initially reported that Jimmie Lynn Ramsaur of the local U.S. Attorney's office had carried out the cross-examination of Alan Saturn. In fact, as now noted above, Jenny L. Grus of the DoJ's tax unit handled that exchange.