A federal judge appointed attorneys Monday to act as legal advisers for three men accused of scamming $80 million from investors, despite the men's assertions that the appointed lawyers won't understand their case.
The S.C. men known as the “3 Hebrew Boys” – Tony Pough, Timothy McQueen and Joseph Brunson – had been acting as their own attorneys since firing their legal counsel earlier this year. Each faces a state count of securities fraud, as well as 35 counts of federal mail fraud. The federal charges each carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
During the brief hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph McCrorey asked the men if they had tried to hire attorneys or wanted the government to appoint counsel for them. Brunson repeatedly told the judge he wasn't there to act on his own behalf and was only in court “as a third-party intervener.”
“You can phrase that any way you want to,” McCrorey said. “If you're convicted in this case, it is you that's going to jail.”
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All three defendants also objected to having appointed counsel, saying they had sent questionnaires to several prospective attorneys.
“I object to the standby counsel unless he's able to qualify to do the job that I need him to do, on behalf of the defendant,” Brunson said. “I do not stand under any motion that the government has submitted.”
Regardless of the defendants' objections, having a legal adviser is important so that the men receive good advice and make good decisions during their court proceedings, prosecutor Winston Holliday said.
“Federal court is no place to be as a lay person, if they don't understand the rules,” Holliday told the judge.
A judge is scheduled to consider other issues during a hearing next week, including prosecutors' request that Brunson be given a mental evaluation to determine if he's competent to stand trial. Prosecutors have said that Brunson received mental treatment while in the Army, and that he wrote numerous letters to investigators that make no sense.
A judge is also expected to review a disjointed, 33-page motion filed last month in which the defendants say U.S. prosecutors don't have jurisdiction over their case and ask that money seized by investigators be returned.
Prosecutors say the men, who named their investment plan the “3 Hebrew Boys” after a Bible tale about brothers who kept their faith in God even as they were thrown into a fiery furnace and survived, promised daily returns of up to 500 percent. They focused on recruiting investors at military bases and in churches. Some U.S. soldiers fighting abroad sent checks to invest.
The men, who attended church together and claimed they were rescued from financial ruin by divine intervention, are accused of luring at least 7,000 investors from two dozen states, taking $80 million along the way. The three had told people that the money would be invested in foreign currency markets.
Investigators said less than $40,000 was actually invested, the rest spent instead on private jets, real estate and luxury boxes at sporting events. The men have said they offered a legitimate investment opportunity and still have support from dozens of investors.
Earlier this summer, Greenville attorney Beattie Ashmore said he had collected more than $18 million in assets to return to investors if the men are found guilty.
The men declined to speak with a reporter after the hearing. They remain free on bail but are under house arrest, leaving home only for work and church. The attorneys appointed as standby counsel, who were not at the hearing Monday, did not immediately respond to messages for comment.