Updated: December 9, 2011 at 12:00 am
DENVER — The first day of testimony in Douglas Bruce’s trial for tax evasion was a roller coaster of a day.
It peaked with accusations of lies and perjury and schemes, and bottomed out with hours of bland tax policy.
But both sides have their reasons to celebrate, and the case is far from finished. First Assistant Attorney General Robert Shapiro scored with his opening statement Friday morning, and said Bruce had pulled off a “well-orchestrated scheme” by first founding a nonprofit and then using it to dance around the state and federal departments of revenue.
“This vicious cycle was designed by Mr. Bruce to avoid paying taxes, both federal and state,” Shapiro told the jury. “The state of Colorado was defrauded by the defendant.”
Bruce reserved his opening statement until he begins his defense, after Shapiro rests his case, but he got his shots in.
He got Shirley Stevens, the manager of the discovery section of the state Department of Revenue, to say she hadn’t been deceived by the documents he sent the DOR.
That was significant because part of the indictment against Bruce charges that he attempted to influence heads of the DOR through “deceit.” Stevens admitted she never saw the documents in question.
Bruce crowed after that exchange. But he was frustrated at most turns by answers he did not expect from the day’s four witnesses. Several times he raised his voice, repeated questions and asked if the witnesses knew what perjury is.
Judge Anne Mansfield came close to losing her temper. She warned Bruce countless times to stop repeating questions and heed the prosecution’s objections.
At one point, Bruce began asking a question a third time, even after Mansfield upheld an objection from Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Melito. Mansfield cut him off and sharply asked, “Do you know what ‘sustained’ means?”
That didn’t dampen Bruce’s spirits. He later leapt out of his seat as Shapiro was questioning a witness about state regulations for nonprofits.
“Objection! Misrepresenting reality! Or whatever the word for that is,” he said forcefully.
Mansfield overruled him.
At the end of the day, Mansfield granted a motion Bruce filed, a request to allow U.S. Reps. Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman to testify via phone as character witnesses.
Though Shapiro pointed out that Bruce had issued subpoenas for neither of the two congressmen, Mansfield said she would make an exception for Bruce.
Bruce said he had spoken with Lamborn directly, and said he had traded messages with Coffman’s staff, and that both of the congressmen would testify on his behalf. Lamborn Communications Director Catherine Mortensen confirmed afterward that Lamborn will testify for Bruce, but Coffman spokesman Joe Megyesy said his boss had not spoken with Bruce and was not planning on attending the trial.
Shapiro said at the end of the day that they were far behind schedule, and Mansfield told Bruce she was keeping track of how much time he used questioning each witness. She said he was taking far more than the prosecution, and said he would have to speed up.
Bruce is on trial on charges of tax evasion, attempting to influence a public official, filing a false tax return and failing to file a tax return. If convicted of all charges, he could be sentenced to up to 12 and a half years in prison and be fined more than $700,000.
The trial will resume Monday morning, and is scheduled to finish by Dec. 19.