The closing arguments for the Mark Smith trial began and ended today. And soon, Smith’s fate will rest in the better judgment of 12 jurors who have spent weeks listening to evidence. They will decide one thing: whether Smith is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The United States government is accusing Smith of attempting to defraud the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority, which is fully federally funded, by accepting Housing Assistance Payments for Section 8 tenants when he was prohibited from doing so as GHURA’s legal counsel.
In his closing arguments, prosecutor William Doolittle reminded the jury not to be sidetracked with the defense’s attempt at convincing them that Smith was not a covered individual and therefore did not have a conflict-of-interest. Smith lied to GHURA and HUD officials, according to the prosecution by giving half-truths.
Here is a summary of Mr. Doolittle’s arguments:
- Mr. Smith never divulged all the details surrounding the properties that were being rented to Section 8 tenants.
- As a lawyer, Smith was fully aware of the definition of a covered individual.
- As GHURA’s legal counsel, Smith was prohibited from participating in the Section 8 program as a landlord.
- Smith influenced GHURA policy; there is evidence in the board meeting minutes, the audio clips from the meetings, and the legal opinions written by Smith provided to the jury.
- When the issue of Smith’s conflict-of-interest came up, rather than inform HUD, the properties were transferred to his former co-defendant, Glenn Wong.
- Even though Smith transferred his properties to Wong on paper, Smith always had control of everything.
- The payment plan for the properties stipulated that if Mr. Wong were to default in payments, the ownership would be transferred back to Smith.
- Wong never made consistent payments nor was he able to afford to do that without the HAP payments from GHURA.
- Smith also kept all the utilities for the properties in question, in his name.
- Smith’s property manager testified that even though there was a change of landlord, Smith was still the owner.
The attempt to defraud the government, Mr. Doolittle said, stemmed from the HAP payments that were being deposited into an account that Wong gave Smith access to. Following the money, it led right back to Mark Smith. Mr. Doolittle said, “So, this whole dispute back and forth…is it Mr. Smith’s fault because he’s not telling them what’s going on? Definitely.”
Smith’s attorney Mike Phillip’s closing argument depended solely on the assertion that Mr. Smith was not a covered individual. A ‘covered individual’ in this case, is a person who is a GHURA employee, contractor, sub-contractor or agent who formulates policy or who influences decisions with respect to the program.
If he was not a covered individual, he could not have a conflict-of-interest. According to Mr. Phillips, Smith had done his part by saying, “Send it up to HUD,” at a 2012 meeting of the GHURA board. Phillips also tried to persuade the jury that the word of Ray Topasna, a central character in the government’s allegations against Mr. Smith, could not be relied upon. In the same breath though, he referenced Mr. Topasna’s letter, stating that Smith was not a covered individual. Relying on the defense’s one witness, Phillips brought the jury back to Daniel Owen’s testimony. Mr. Owen is Mark Smith’s stepfather. In Owen’s testimony, he claimed that Smith and Wong were not related and therefore, there could not be an appearance of impropriety.
The fact remains that Smith was GHURA’s legal counsel, who had influence over decisions and policymaking, Mr. Doolittle rebutted. When GHURA officials became aware that Mark Smith was a Section 8 landlord while being a contracted attorney for GHURA, he attempted to cover up his interest through a sham sale of property to Wong, the prosecution said. HUD was notified and started an investigation, and Smith ultimately resigned.
It is unclear whether the jury now has the case, as Judge Ramona Manglona called for a private sidebar among the attorneys in the case when she finished reading the jury their instructions.