A jury found Hassen Dagher, 46, guilty of both felony check fraud and exploiting an elder Friday afternoon.
In a three-day trial peppered with numerous objections and static-filled stretches of time while counsel conferred with Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin regarding the legality of their arguments, it seemed almost a fitting conclusion when Seldin interrupted the prosecution’s rebuttal closing argument to have both attorneys approach the bench one more time.
“There are rules that govern trials, as you have gathered,” Seldin told the jury. “One of those rules is that the attorneys are not allowed to comment on the truthfulness or lack thereof of a witness’ testimony. They can certainly ask to look at things, but they can’t comment as to whether a witness testified truthfully. That is solely for you to decide.”
In her closing argument, Denver-based defense attorney Laura Menninger called into question the credibility of Tom Peckham’s testimony. Peckham, 77, is the owner of the efficiency unit which Dagher rented between July and October of 2018. During that time, Dagher wrote a check for $2,950, representing first and last month’s rent, that bounced on two separate occasions. Throughout the entire time Dagher was residing in the unit, he paid Peckham a total of $945.
Additionally, Dagher falsely represented himself as a practicing doctor when he first met Peckham, according to Peckham’s testimony, which persuaded Peckham to rent to Dagher over other interested prospective renters, spurring the exploitation charge.
“Mr. Dagher may have mentioned he was a doctor; Mr. Peckhalm testified under oath that is what he told him: ‘I have an MD, but I’m not licensed to practice in Colorado.’ Guess what? That is true. Guess what? That is not deception,” Menninger said. “There is no corroborative evidence of Mr. Peckham’s claims that that’s what he was fooled by. The lease doesn’t talk about ‘doctor.’ That’s something that came up when he talked to the prosecution and he thought about how best to help his case. The story keeps changing folks, and it’s not credible.”
Deputy District Attorney Don Nottingham took issue with that allegation, and he addressed it head-on in his rebuttal.
“Defense counsel told you that Tom Peckham didn’t bother to tell Officer Davis [about the $945 paid] and sent him partial bank records. At the time Officer Davis got these bank records, it’s true that Peckham didn’t tell him about the $945 because he hadn’t yet gotten the $945,” Nottingham said. “He testified truthfully.”
It was that last statement that triggered Seldin’s interruption. Ultimately, the jury agreed with Nottingham’s arguments and apparently found Peckham’s testimony valid. Dagher is scheduled to next appear in court March 16 for sentencing.