SOUTH BEND — The trial for a man accused of perpetrating wire, bankruptcy and mail fraud with his Elkhart business likely will be delayed so that his attorney has more time to prepare his defense, a judge said in a hearing Wednesday.
On May 14, a federal grand jury indicted James LeDonne, 59, of Granger, on charges that he accepted down payments, usually equal to 50 percent of the vehicle’s cost, to make fiber-optic splicing vehicles ordered by fiber optic line contractors outside of the Elkhart area but never delivered the units.
As part of the fraud scheme, LeDonne used a series of bankruptcies to avoid refunding money to victims, the indictment alleges. He then would create a new company and victimize more prospective customers through the new company, the indictment alleges.
LeDonne, wearing a green jail uniform during a hearing Wednesday, has been held in the St. Joseph County Jail since May 19, after U.S. Magistrate Christopher Nuechterlein agreed with assistant U.S. attorney Donald Schmid’s contention that he presented a flight risk and danger to the community while awaiting trial.
Crown Point attorney Kevin Milner on May 22 entered an appearance to represent LeDonne in the case, but he later withdrew, stating LeDonne had made “certain representations” to him that “turned out to be inaccurate...” LeDonne then filed a motion seeking to represent himself, prompting U.S. District Judge Jon DeGuilio to appoint Elkhart attorney William Cohen as “stand-by counsel” for Wednesday’s hearing.
The initial purpose of Wednesday’s hearing had been for DeGuilio to determine whether LeDonne was competent to serve as his own attorney, assess whether he was voluntarily waiving his right to court-appointed counsel and make sure that LeDonne understood the disadvantages he would have in forgoing an attorney.
But LeDonne on Wednesday told the judge that after meeting with Cohen for several hours Tuesday night, he wanted Cohen to represent him. After LeDonne told the judge that he had no checking or bank accounts, no assets of any value, and his wife holds the title to their $1.2 million Granger home, DeGuilio told him to complete a financial affidavit he will use to determine whether LeDonne can receive Cohen as a public defender.
The case now is set for a trial to begin July 14 and last two to three weeks. Cohen told the judge that if appointed, he would need more time than that to prepare LeDonne’s defense. The government, whose agents raided the business May 12, has amassed five CDs full of evidence in the “complex” case, he said.
DeGuilio agreed Cohen would need more time.
After he decides Thursday whether to appoint Cohen, DeGuilio said he will set a hearing to rule on LeDonne’s motion to be released on bond in contrast to Nuechterlein’s order.
Meanwhile, Schmid told DeGuilio that the judge had been appointed the United States attorney for northern Indiana in November 1993, at a time when LeDonne’s appeal of a prior federal conviction for bank and wire fraud was pending. Schmid said he was noting that fact “not because I believe you should be recused, but just so that it’s stated on the record.”
The judge thanked Schmid and asked LeDonne and Cohen whether they had any objection to him staying on the case. Both said they did not.
LeDonne operated under various business names from 2008 through 2013. Level 4 Technologies LLC filed bankruptcy in 2008. L6 Engineering Systems LLC filed in December 2010, and LG Engineering & Design filed in December 2013. He most recently was operating as Paragon Technologies out of a building at the northwest corner of C.R. 6 and Dexter Drive, adjacent to the Elkhart Municipal Airport.
In 2012, LeDonne obtained a trailer already built and delivered to a customer in 2007, under the guise of a recall, and then delivered it to a customer in Georgia in 2012, issuing a new vehicle identification number for the stolen trailer so that the Georgia customer could register and plate it, the indictment alleges.