MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — One of the men accused of bilking Starkey Hearing out of $20 million is firing back with scathing allegations directed at owner Bill Austin.
The latest allegations are contained in what’s known as a motion for disclosure of Brady material. Essentially, the defendants in the fraud case want company records that may be exculpatory, or favorable to them, hoping the written or recorded documents will show jurors a different picture of what was happening inside Starkey.
The 24-page motion was filed on behalf of former Starkey president Jerome Ruzicka. In November 2015, federal agents raided his home as they built a fraud and embezzlement case against him and two other fired Starkey executives. In addition, two other defendants with ties to the company are also indicted.
Now, the defendants hope to turn the tables, by showing dysfunction and questionable business dealings by Austin.
Ruzicka claims he was ousted for not promoting Austin’s step-son, Brandon Sawalich, to president. In the motion, Ruzicka refers to Sawalich as “incompetent” and unwilling to be coached.
Austin rejects a defense claim that Ruzicka used Starkey funds to purchase art by then “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant, Marlee Matlin.
Matlin appeared at Starkey’s annual fundraising gala and would help raise money for his Foundation. By purchasing her art, it is assumed that she would remain on the reality show longer.
Ruzicka calls the move by Austin, a “fraud on the public, Marlee Matlin and Donald Trump,” who was then the show’s host and not president.
Defendants also allege that Starkey is paying to silence witnesses, claiming that one unnamed witness received more than $600,000 to be “unavailable” for defense attorney questioning.
But perhaps Ruzicka’s strangest allegation centered on what Austin reportedly said at company meetings.
Ruzicka said he apparently spoke of having conversations with wildlife, including a deer he had shot while hunting. According to the filing, that deer asked Austin, “Why did you shoot me?”
Austin also allegedly spoke of his “visits from angels,” claiming they “predicted his death on Nov. 11, 2011 at 11:11 p.m.”
Fortunately, angels reappeared and gave Austin a reprieve.
Starkey released a statement on behalf of the company and Austin. It reads:
“Today’s filing blizzard is a classic in the criminal defense attorney’s playbook: When all else fails, throw everything – no matter how scurrilous, unfounded or false – up in the air in the hope that something – anything – will distract from the truth of the government’s case. The defendants in this case are alleged to have engaged in a long-running, widespread conspiracy to defraud the Company. That’s not our conclusion, it’s what a Grand Jury has charged after a year-long investigation by the U.S. Attorney, the FBI and other federal agencies.
“We’re confident that justice will be served in this matter.”