Gerino Taliman, former property manager and Section 8 tenant of Mark Smith, told the jury his side of the truth about Mr. Smith as an employer and landlord. When all is said and done, the testimony of this poor blue-collar worker, may very well have led to the jury returning a guilty verdict against Smith in his federal corruption trial.
According to testimony and evidence witnesses prior to Taliman provided, Smith, GHURA management, and its board all understood it was a problem that Smith was renting units to Section 8 tenants and at the same time providing legal counsel to GHURA, which administers the Section 8 federal funding. While Smith was legal counsel for GHURA, he sold his apartments to Glenn Wong, his friend and co-defendant who died this year. Smith’s attorney, Mike Phillips, told the jury at the start of trial that the federal government does not have a shred of evidence his client committed a crime. The U.S. attorney is alleging the sale of the apartments to Wong simply was a scheme to cover up Smith’s conflict. But no one has ever been able to testify to this, until Taliman took the stand.
Prosecutor Marivic David asked Mr. Taliman who his landlord was when he resided at the Smith apartments. Mr. Taliman said, “Mark Smith.” Later, an amendment to Mr. Taliman’s GHURA contract had to be signed, acknowledging the change of landlord from Mr. Smith to Glenn Wong. Ms. David asked Mr. Taliman who had signed the document on behalf of Mr. Wong? Mr. Taliman said, “The mom of Mark Smith.” The signature on the amendment above Mr. Wong’s name was that of Rosita Owens – Smith’s mother, as Mr. Wong’s power of attorney. Ms. David asked Mr. Taliman how he knew Ms. Owens, to which he responded, “I do work for her, for Mark Smith though,” he continued, “Mark Smith sent me down to his mom’s own place.”
Ms. David asked if Mr. Taliman was aware his landlord, Mark Smith, was also GHURA’s legal counsel. Mr. Taliman confirmed that he knew he was GHURA’s attorney. Ms. David asked him how he became aware of that information, and he said, “He told me.” When the change of landlord came about, Mr. Taliman said, “Mark called me up, told me to distribute the flyers.” When asked what the fliers said, Mr. Taliman said, “Something about change in landlord.” Ms. David asked if Mr. Smith said anything to him regarding the change of landlord. Mr. Taliman divulged, “I remember him telling me that he’s still the owner of the apartments though. It’s just he has to change the name because of GHURA’s policy.” Mr. Taliman never wavered that, “Bottom line, he’s still the landlord. He’s still the owner of the place though.”
As a property manager, Mr. Taliman said his duties were, “Painting the house, bushcutting, cleaning the house, going down to do service for him,” referring to Mr. Smith. Ms. David asked Mr. Taliman how he would pay his rent. Mr. Taliman explained, “We switched favors. He told me I work for him, Mark Smith told me that.” Ms. David inquired if Mr. Taliman would do similar work for Glenn Wong once he became the landlord. Mr. Taliman told her, “I never met Mr. Wong though. No, I didn’t.”
The prosecutor asked if there came a time in 2014 that Mr. Taliman was served papers for small claims action. Mr. Taliman recalled, “I remember Mark Smith taking me to court.” Ms. David asked if Mr. Taliman was taken to court because of a promissory note for $1,700 he failed to pay in 2013, for rent on the apartment Glenn Wong was supposed to own, not Smith? Mr. Taliman answered, “I don’t recall but I remember paying $500.00 when I went to court though.”
During defense counsel’s attempt at cross examination, Mr. Phillips tried his best to get Mr. Taliman to acknowledge Mr. Wong as the person he agreed to pay on the promissory note. Mr. Phillips asked Mr. Taliman if he signed the document. Mr. Taliman responded, “Yes I did, but Mark Smith told me he’s still the owner.” Mr. Phillips repeatedly asked the question and Mr. Taliman maintained, “There’s no Glenn Wong. There’s no Glenn Wong though. From my understanding, there’s no Glenn Wong. My understanding is Mark Smith is the landlord.”
There’s No Glenn Wong
Mr. Phillips referred to a document indicating Mr. Wong, represented by attorney Mark Smith, was suing Mr. Taliman for the money that was owed. Attorney Phillips asked Mr. Taliman if he could see Mr. Wong’s name in the case against him. Mr. Taliman said, “I see a name, but I did not see any Glenn Wong. I’m telling you there’s no Glenn Wong though. I remember the case, but I never met the Glenn Wong.”
Judge Ramona Manglona finally intervened, “The witness already answered that he remembers the case, Mr. Phillips.” To discredit the witness, Mr. Phillips resurrected charges that Mr. Taliman was never convicted of. Ms. David moved to strike the question and Judge Manglona chided Mr. Phillips, “Mr. Phillips you can accuse people of what they are charged with and as we know when people are charged, they’re presumed innocent. What will be admissible is what the person is convicted with, so the objection is sustained to the extent you’re representing what a person’s been charged with.”
The final attempt from defense to get the witness to acknowledge Mr. Wong was when Mr. Phillips asked Mr. Taliman if he ever told federal officials that he saw Glenn Wong standing near or by Mr. Smith? Mr. Taliman said, “No.” Mr. Phillips asked, “If any federal official said that it would be a lie?” Mr. Taliman said with finality, “Yes.”
David Burger “I expected Mark Smith”
David Burger, a certified public accountant, also testified. Mr. Burger bought the so-called Smith Apartments from Glenn Wong, Mr. Smith’s deceased co-defendant. Prosecutor Marivic David asked if Mr. Burger had any association with another CPA by the name of Karvin Flynn, who conducted an audit of GHURA. Mr. Berger explained, “Yes, Karvin is a 40 percent owner of BCM LLC.” Mr. Burger is a 60 percent owner of the firm on Guam called Burger Comer Magliari LLC or BCM LLC. Prosecutor Marivic David asked Mr. Burger if he was aware of the GHURA audit. Mr. Burger replied, “I am aware, I wasn’t really directly involved in it.” Ms. David asked Mr. Burger if he ever had to disclose a conflict of interest with GHURA because of the audit work Mr. Flynn was involved with. Mr. Burger said, “In our firm of Burger and Comer, we did not have any conflict of interest and when we became BCM I wouldn’t have had
any conflict of interest until I bought the apartments.”
Ms. David asked Mr. Burger if he knew Mr. Smith. Mr. Burger replied, “We’ve never spoken.” Referring to the purchase contract for the Smith apartments, Ms. David asked who the seller was. Mr. Burger said, “It was Glenn Wong.” Ms. David asked, did that surprise you? Mr. Burger answered, “It did. I did not know that Glenn Wong was going to be on the paperwork until I went to sign the paperwork.” When asked whose name he had expected to be on the paperwork, Mr. Burger said, “I expected Mark Smith.” He continued, “The property was introduced to me by a realtor as Mark Smith apartments.”
Ms. David probed Mr. Burger for specifics. “I had let Vic Reyes know that I was interested in acquiring apartments in Guam,” Mr. Burger explained to Ms. David that, “Vic called me and said, ‘Hey, there’s a property for sale, would you be interested?’ and I said, ‘Well, tell me what it is.’ ‘Well, there’s a(sic) eight-apartments and a five-bedroom house right next to each other. Do you want to go look at it?’ So, Vic and I went there, and he showed me two units. We went inside and Vic said, ‘These are Mark Smith’s apartments. He’s selling them. We have a Korean gentleman that’s offered $750,000 and that offer was rejected so don’t offer anything less than 750.” Mr. Burger ended up purchasing the Smith apartments for $825,000.
In cross-examination, Mr. Smith’s attorney, Mike Phillips, brought up the issue of Mr. Burger’s disclosure to GHURA regarding his conflict of interest. Mr. Burger said of the matter, “We definitely had conversations within the firm because I think I had already made an offer on the apartments before acquiring Scott Magliari’s interest.” Mr. Phillips, looking for clarification, asked if it had anything to do with the Section 8 tenants that were renting units at the Smith apartments? Mr. Burger said, “It did. And so, you can’t be the auditor and have Section 8 tenants.” Mr. Phillips was seeking further clarification of how Mr. Burger had handled the situation. Burger explained, “No well, I don’t know if anyone told me to, but we had to remove all the Section 8 tenants and we did.”
Mr. Phillips brought up the sale of the property and asked if Mr. Burger was surprised Mr. Wong had owned the property and if he was surprised when he delivered the warranty deed, as promised? Mr. Burger said, “Well, my recollection of the whole process is Vic Reyes said here’s Mark Smith’s apartments available. We went through the bidding process. Ok, your offer of $825 is accepted. And Glenn Wong’s name never came up.” Mr. Phillips asked rhetorically, if the name of the apartments were Glenn Wong apartments and Mr. Berger answered, “If somebody said these are the Mark Smith apartments, I would assume they belong to Mark Smith.” Mr. Phillips asked if Mr. Burger had ever dealt or even met Mr. Smith. Mr. Burger said that he had not. Mr. Phillips asked, “Did you ever think he played you?” referring to the realtor, Vic Reyes. Mr. Burger said, “No. I would be surprised.”
Mr. Phillips asked Mr. Burger if anyone had mentioned to him that being a contractor of GHURA and then becoming a Section 8 landlord, he had a potential conflict-of-interest. Mr. Burger said, “Actually, nobody needed to mention that to me. I knew that I could not be an owner of Section 8 property and do the audit.” Mr. Phillips asked Mr. Burger if he was aware that a waiver application was sent to HUD. Mr. Burger, puzzled, asked, “I don’t think I’m aware of that. What would the waiver be for?” Mr. Phillips told him it was for the Section 8 tenants in the Smith apartment units. Mr. Burger said, “I did not ask for any waiver. I’m not aware of any waiver application.” Mr. Burger explained to Mr. Phillips, “Because, I think that between Karvin and myself and Mr. Magliari, we were all very clear that you cannot own Section 8 property and be the auditor for GHURA. So, we had to take precautions within our own firm such as me having nothing to do with the audit and making all the Section 8 tenants get out.”
Mr. Phillips asked Mr. Burger if he had received checks from Glenn Wong for Section 8 tenant rent? Mr. Burger said, “I have a spread sheet that tracks the various transactions. That is possible.” Mr. Phillips asked Mr. Burger if he was aware of the rental receipts for the Smith apartment units he had acquired. Mr. Burger said, “I bought the apartments as hopefully something that would provide rental income to my two daughters and the property management, collection of rents, handling repairs, whatever, assigned to my wife and daughter because I’m mostly in Saipan so I was not doing any bank deposits, writing receipts, nothing.” Mr. Phillips presented to the court a check from Mr. Wong for three months of rent to Mr. Burgers daughter. “I don’t know if that is Section 8 rent or not.” Mr. Burger continued, “I can’t say that for sure because there were Section 8 and non-Section 8 tenants and if they paid Glenn and Glenn paid my daughter, I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t directly involved in any of that.” Mr. Phillips searched for clarification, asking if that would be improper? Mr. Burger said, “Yes. I can not be a Section 8 landlord and be involved with GHURA audit. Cannot.”