In November of 2021, after a trial in the Western District of Oklahoma, a federal jury found Bobby Chris Mayes, Charles Gooch and Courtney Wells guilty of conspiracy, issuanace of forged securities, aggravated identity theft and wire fraud.
The trio were co-owners of the Big Red Dealerships (Big Red Sports/Imports, Big Red Kia, Norman Yamaha, Norman Mitsubishi, and Mayes Kia).
They were found to have illegally obtained millions of dollars in loan proceeds after making false statements (or omissions) to lenders about down payments from borrowers or car trade-ins, in the course of business from February 2015 until late 2017.
A press release about the convictions from the U.S. attorneys office used the terms "false" and "fictitious" and "fraudulent" often, and detailed the lengthy terms of imprisonment and various fines they might face upon sentencing.
Below is a brief summary of the 17-page request (filed in June of this year) from defense lawyers for Mayes in which they seek a new trial, and a longer summary of the federal lawyers’ 28-page compilation of arguments against that request.
The contending briefs are in the case “United States of America, plaintiff vs. Bobby Chris Mayes, defendant. No. CR-20-240-F, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. For further information, both legal briefs should be studied.
Sketching a brief for Bobby Chris Mayes from several attorneys, including Vicki Behenna
In June, attorneys Rachel N. Jordan, Vicki Zemp Behenna and William H. Bock noted that Mayes had “always maintained that he did not know pawn items were being overvalued or in-and-out transactions were taking place.”
The brief assailed the government’s main witness (Andy Elliot), describing him as a “master manipulator” who had a non-prosecution accord with the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The brief for Mayes said Elliot “lied to the government to save himself and he lied at trial.”
Their request for a new trial described what the defense says is post-conviction discovery (by a Big Red employee) of a notebook “containing notes that appeared to be written by Ms. Wells” which demonstrated she was looking for other countries in which to live.
(And, Wells wrote her daughter a note “suggesting she did not intend to return” from the vacation she started while out on bail pending sentencing.)
Within days of asserted discovery of that printed material, defense counsel moved for a new trial.
In the narrative from Mayes’ counsel, when he looked at his personal email (“which he does not check on a regular basis”) he “discovered” (in the words of his counsel’s brief) “an email from Ms. Wells” that amounted to “a confession to the crimes for which the defendants were convicted.”
The email from Wells, the brief continued, told Mayes where to look for physical copies of “a few emails and copies of checks” that would essentially exonerate him.
The Prosecutors Reply to the request for a new trial
Last month, a reply to that request was filed “by and through United States Attorney Robert J. Troester and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas B. Snyder.”
The federal prosecutors – putting it mildly -- rejected arguments for Mayes in virtually every particular.
As a legal matter, the attorneys argued in the August 23 brief, Mayes cannot meet “the “high legal standard required to justify a new trial.”
They insisted that precedent aside there is no “factual basis to grant a new trial or disturb the verdict of the jury previously entered in this case.”
They stressed a view that “... The finality of jury verdicts would be far too easily undermined if defendants were allowed to obtain a new trial based on evidence that was either reasonably available to them at the time of the first trial, is of such a character that it either would not[a] motion for a new trial is not regarded with favor and should only be granted with great caution.”
Pressing their case early in the August brief, the U.S. attorneys say “Because none of the evidence offered in support of the Motion actually meets the high hurdles required ..., the motion can be denied on that basis alone. However, it is helpful to address the motion’s claim that there are two tests that can be applied when evaluating a new trial motion – the probability test and the possibility test, the latter being a much more relaxed standard.”
They counter both tests – with references to precedents and legal reasoning to bolster their analysis.
The attorneys reflect on what they deem “the highly dubious nature of the way in which this entire scenario unfolded.” In light of the status of the post-conviction proceedings – with presentence reports incomplete and “sentencing … a long way off for any of the defendants,” Wells “did not face any threat of incarceration for many months.”
Continuing, “The notion that Ms. Wells decided to become a fugitive, abandoning her daughter just prior to Mother’s Day and her high school graduation with nothing that would explain or justify such as decision, is more than a little hard to [believe].” The prosecutors observed, “The ONLY person who benefits in any way from Ms. Well’s inexplicable disappearance is Mr. Mayes.”
With a style of forensic analysis, the federal lawyers say the emails can not be authenticated and fall into the category of “hearsay” that would not be admissible.
They believe “there is good reason to doubt whether Ms. Wells wrote” the missives.
The story’s narrative grows more mysterious in that Wells and her husband [Mr. Landers] were away on a camping trip (one actually cleared with her probation officer) at the time she is said to have written the emails. Their cell phones, FBI investigators found, “stopped transmitting location data” on May 2.
May 2 was also the date of the last time Well’s daughter saw her: “As far as the United States knows, no one has seen or heard from either of them since.”
In a parallel rebuff to the defense lawyers’ presentation to the court, the federal lawyers note that one of the “purported authors” of the emails “has submitted a sworn affidavit … stating that he did not either send or receive any of these emails.”
Summing up their case against the “discovered” emails, the federal lawyers contend “not only is there evidence ff deliberate manipulation” there is “clear evidence that the person doing it was doing it from the same location” where Mayes, Wells and others worked.
The U.S. attorneys also devote several pages to deriding the credentials and expertise of the defense lawyers’ witness who affirmed the emails were legitimate.
The case is of broader interest than the particulars – although, to be clear, the pervasive advertising for “Big Red” car dealers in recent years brings it to the general public’s attention quite naturally) – because Vicki Behenna is seeking election to the position of Oklahoma County District Attorney.
The case is pending in the federal court.
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