The Greatest Trial You've Never Heard Of

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When last we left David H. Brooks' criminal fraud trial, underway now since darkest winter at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, New York, prosecutors were just beginning to make their case against the former body-armor manufacturer and titan owner of a valuable band of Standardbred race horses. The feds have long claimed that Brooks, and a co-defendant, defrauded their company, DHB Industries, out of approximately $190 million. Early last week, after nine weeks of startling revelations, outrageous expenses, and after a series of bizarre episodes involving Brooks himself, the defense finally has started its own case.

The first thing to say as the trial turns for home is that if it were more widely covered in the New York media market -- only Long Island's Newsday has so far given it its due -- it would be one of the most widely-followed trials of the decade. I predicted this months ago and was right -- but even in my wildest imagination I never dreamed this trial would be so uproariously and persistently unseemly. Although it doesn't possess the string of A-List victims like the Bernard Madoff scandal did, and despite the lack of video showing off the glamour like we saw in the Tyco case, the Brooks's trial simply has been a screen-writer's dream and a Hollywood natural. Brenden Fraser plays Brooks. Cue the hookers. And the jewel-encrusted belt. And the race horses. And the sex plane. End of story.

Indeed, the Brooks trial so far has contained in-court testimony about raucus sex romps to Las Vegas via private planes, monthly porn allowances for a son, tents full of hookers, $35,000 spent on pens, and, no kidding, a witness who claims the defendant asked him about "mind-erasing" pills to be used on a fellow employee. There has been at least one contempt of court finding against Brooks and a "finding" of another sort when jail officials found the defendant hiding some pills in a pen which reportedly was then found during a body cavity search. Ick.

According to government witnesses, Brooks used corporate money to pay for a "brothel tent" at a company party in Florida. There were other expenses for hookers and Brooks' family also allegedly benefited from the company's coffers. How would you like to have been the Brooks' family member whose father's company was footing the bill for porn? The government's proffered evidence of Brooks' raunchiness got so salacious, in fact, that Brooks' attorneys sought to prevent the feds from focusing too much on it. It was prejudicial to their client, they claimed.

Let me put it another way. You know things aren't going your way as a defendant when the trial judge in your case, here U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert, scolds your lead defense attorney only two days into his witness presentation with the words: "I will not tolerate your continuous assault on me personally that this is not a fair trial." The judge was only slightly more mellow one month earlier when she held Brooks in contempt after his lawyers refused to turn over email evidence they were using to try to impeach the testimony of a government witness. "The court is tired of giving Mr. Brooks second and third chances to comply with its instructions," the judge wrote at the time.

I don't mean to suggest that the government's case against Brooks and Company has been shallow all the way. It has had great substance, too, in the form of former employees who have come in to testify about what they allege was large scale corporate looting. Indeed, I have had the privilege of watching or following hundreds of the highest-profile trials in the country over the past 13 years. And I cannot ever remember seeing against any criminal defendant such an avalanche of incriminating evidence, coming from so many different sources and directions.

I do not know what the defense can or will do to thwart this. But if by some chance Brooks beats the rap, it will be no great tragedy for prosecutors. They still want to try Brooks for tax evasion; that is, just before Judge Seybert tries him for contempt.

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, 60 Minutes' first-ever legal analyst, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. He is also chief analyst for CBS Radio News and has won a Murrow Award as one of the nation's leading legal journalists. More

Cohen is the winner of the American Bar Association’s 2012 Silver Gavel Award for his Atlantic commentary about the death penalty in America and the winner of the Humane Society’s 2012 Genesis Award for his coverage of the plight of America’s wild horses. A racehorse owner and breeder, Cohen also is a two-time winner of both the John Hervey and O’Brien Awards for distinguished commentary about horse racing.

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