The Aspen man defending himself against allegations that he defrauded an investment client of thousands of dollars cross-examined a local financial advisor and Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo on Tuesday, and then took the stand himself to testify.
On the second day of a civil jury trial, Doug Wilson questioned Michael Lee, a financial advisor and witness called by the attorney for Aspen resident Dana Knight. Knight, who is suing Wilson for fraud in Pitkin County District Court, testified Monday that when he realized that roughly $39,000 in retirement accounts being handled by Wilson — without his knowledge, Knight contends — had dwindled drastically, he went to Lee. Knight told the jury that Lee started laughing when he saw what Wilson was investing in — mostly high-risk gold ventures that lost money — and the commissions and management fees he had allegedly charged Knight.
Lee’s guffaws continued Tuesday when he was questioned by Wilson, who is representing himself after Knight sued him in 2016. The plaintiff alleges that he gave Wilson permission to use only $2,000 from one account for investment, but that the defendant had him sign paperwork giving Wilson control over three retirement accounts. He testified that he trusted Wilson and said Wilson never explained the documents he was signing or how it allowed him to take control of nearly $40,000.
Lee was asked about his analysis of the work Wilson performed for the plaintiff, including brokerage and management fees allegedly charged to Knight, as well as fees for the monitoring of the position prices of stocks.
“It’s part of your due diligence to look after their positions,” Lee said. “I would never charge for anything like that.”
Wilson asked Lee to add up the worth of Knight’s retirement accounts in August 2013 and August 2014, apparently in a bid to show the jury that the value, at that time, had increased.
“Why don’t you do it?” Lee said, referring to Wilson’s request that he calculate the value of the accounts.
Wilson pushed his request again.
“This is ludicrous,” the witness said.
“What are you calling ludicrous?” Wilson asked.
“You. I am so done with you,” Lee said.
Lee added that he was not Knight’s financial advisor at the time, “you were. Don’t ask me questions about your performance.”
Wilson exasperatedly sighed several times, including after asking Lee if he had called Wilson a competitor in the financial-advisement arena.
“What? No, you’re wacky,” Lee said, chuckling.
Under questioning from Knight’s attorney, Joe Krabacher of Aspen, Lee said his review of the plaintiff’s financials showed regular inconsistencies in the commissions and management fees Wilson was collecting.
“But I could discern if it was double-dipping,” in other words taking a commission on top of a management fee, he said.
Wilson objected numerous times, most of which Judge Chris Seldin overruled.
Krabacher also called DiSalvo, who said he’s known Wilson for 15 to 20 years and has had about the same number of interactions with the defendant (the judge prohibited the description of those encounters). DiSalvo, asked about his opinion on Wilson’s reputation for truthfulness, testified that Wilson is “unpredictable and bully-like.”
Krabacher objected numerous times to Wilson’s questions for DiSalvo, calling them outside the scope of what he had asked the sheriff. This included Wilson trying to ask DiSalvo if he was aware, or part of, a conspiracy to drive him out of Aspen and interfere with his employment. The judge agreed and shot down nearly all of the questions.
“Mr. DiSalvo, do you dislike me?” Wilson asked.
“Mr. Wilson, I don’t know you well enough to dislike you,” the sheriff said.
After the plaintiff rested his case, Wilson himself then took the stand, telling Judge Seldin that he believed he would be asking himself questions. While the judge said that was acceptable, Wilson instead spoke for nearly 90 minutes about his history as a ski racer and software developer, his alcohol intolerance, and the accusations.
He maintained that he believes the sheriff’s office is maintaining a “criminal enterprise” that involves ongoing harassment by police and his neighbors.
“It’s not proper, it’s not correct,” Wilson said, addingthat if the jury rules in his favor, they, too, may be harassed.
After Judge Seldin told him to focus on the allegations at hand, Wilson reiterated that he was only following Knight’s investment instructions and that it was the plaintiff’s decisions that caused the monetary losses.
The trial is expected to conclude today.