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Scott Brett

Other Federal Fraud Exonerations
In January 2016, 55-year-old Scott Brett, a Spokane, Washington business advisor, was indicted by a federal grand jury on a charge of defrauding an Oregon woman out of nearly $900,000.

The indictment alleged that Donna Anderson, of Hermiston, Oregon, and one of her sons sought out Brett in February 2011 to invest $1 million. In 2003, Anderson and her husband, Andy, the retired Hermiston police chief, won an $18.2 million jackpot in the Oregon Megabucks lottery, then the third-largest winning ticket in that state’s history.

Anderson’s husband died in 2008, and by 2011, most of the money had been lost through poor investments. At the time Anderson was looking to invest money, and a friend of her son recommended Brett.

According to the indictment, Brett said that he had a short-term investment scheme in which Anderson’s money would be put in an escrow account managed by Utah-based attorney James Baker, who would use it to leverage other investments. Brett said the money would not be at risk and would double within the first two weeks, resulting in the return of her initial investment. After a month, he said, an investment of $1 million would increase to $8 million.

Anderson agreed to wire $1 million to Brett, who said if the first “implementation” was not completed within 30 days, the $1 million would be returned.

In the last week of February 2011, Anderson requested $130,000 back to invest elsewhere. Brett transferred that amount to her bank account.

The indictment alleged that although Anderson had been told that her money would remain in the escrow account, all but $160.24 had been transferred out by the end of February.

In March 2011, Anderson began demanding the return of the remaining $870,000. The indictment said that only about $16,000 of it ever was returned. The indictment charged Brett with a single count of wire fraud relating to the wire transfer of Anderson’s $1 million investment.

On January 6, 2017, Brett, represented by attorney Roger Pevin, pled guilty to the charge in U.S. District Court in Richland, Washington.

However, prior to sentencing, Brett retained a new attorney, Scott Johnson. In April 2017, Johnson filed a motion requesting that Brett be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.

The motion said that Brett had asked Pevin to hire a forensic accountant. He also asked him to hire an investigator to interview Baker, who had actual control of the funds, as well as Michael Barbee, a Dallas man who ran a company called Aurora Wealth Management and whose firm was intended to make investments that would bring quick profits to Anderson.

In December 2016, Brett received records of the accounts controlled by Baker, which showed that “Brett did not possess even close to the $855,000 amount the government claims in their allegations.”

Brett said he told Pevin that while he felt responsible for the loss of the money, he never intended to defraud or mislead Anderson. Pevin did not hire an investigator or a forensic accountant.

Prior to the plea, Brett and Pevin drafted a hand-written statement of Brett’s involvement, which said Brett did not intend to defraud or mislead Anderson. During the court appearance, U.S. District Judge Salvador Mendoza Jr. asked Brett about the facts of the case. However, before Brett could begin to read the statement, Pevin turned to him and “quietly told him that he had to agree that he intended to defraud and/or mislead Ms. Anderson,” the motion said. “Even though he strongly disagreed, Mr. Brett was scared and confused so he followed Mr. Pevin’s advice.”

The motion said that limited investigation by Johnson suggested that Baker had about $200,000 of Anderson’s money, and that Barbee had more than $400,000 of Anderson’s money.

In November 2017, Judge Mendoza granted the motion and allowed Brett to withdraw his guilty plea. Mendoza said that he was persuaded that Brett “may have misunderstood the nature of the evidence against him as a result of his former counsel’s failure to fully investigate and analyze that evidence, and that this misunderstanding influenced his decision to plead guilty.”

In November 2018, Brett went to trial in U.S. District Court. His defense attorney presented evidence that Brett was not a party to the escrow agreement and that the agreement required Baker to keep all of the $1 million deposited by Anderson in that escrow account.

However, Baker disbursed $900,000 of the money to Barbee, who ultimately cut all ties with Baker and disappeared with approximately $450,000 of Anderson’s money. The prosecution did not seek to file charges against Baker or Barbee.

The defense also presented evidence that in the spring of 2011, Anderson gave Brett and Baker permission to take an advance of their commissions until there was a return on the investment. Brett invested his $200,000 commission in an attempt to recoup some of Anderson’s investment, but that resulted in a loss. Ultimately, Brett returned a total of about $146,000.

Brett denied that he intended to defraud Anderson and maintained that he continued to try to recoup their investment but was unsuccessful.

On November 16, 2018, after deliberating for less than three hours, the jury acquitted Brett of the charge.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/9/2018
Most Serious Crime:Fraud
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2016
Sentence:Not sentenced
Age at the date of reported crime:55
Contributing Factors:Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No