Joseph Zada didn’t show the best judgment when he used other people’s money to buy jewelry, sports cars and palatial homes in Wellington and Michigan, where he threw lavish parties featuring acrobats swinging from trapezes and performing stunts rivaling Cirque du Soleil, his attorney told a federal jury on Tuesday.
In fact, attorney Richard Lubin said, it was downright dumb.
But, he told jurors on the final day of Zada’s month-long fraud trial, the former Wellington high-flier fully intended to repay those who gave him as much as $55 million. Once he received a more than $250 million inheritance from an overseas businessman, everyone would be made whole, he said.
“He put the cart before the horse,” Lubin said of Zada’s decision to take millions from people before he had the inheritance check in hand.
“There’s no question Joe Zada spent the money before he had it,” Lubin said. “He was so convinced he was going to get this huge amount of money that he spent it before he had it. … It’s not a smart thing to do, but it’s not a crime."
Federal prosecutors, who are asking jurors to convict the 57-year-old of 15 counts of mail fraud and three counts of bank fraud when they begin deliberations today, scoffed at the notion that Zada made an innocent mistake.
Since the late 1990s, Zada has been duping people into believing that he was a wildly successful businessman who had befriended a variety of preposterously rich men, who left him their fortunes when they died, federal prosecutors said.
First, he claimed he got a windfall from a man who died from AIDS, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Adrienne Rabinowitz. Then, it was a enormous check from his oil-rich Lebanese father, who felt guilty about abandoning his family after they moved to the U.S. Later, he told people he was inheriting money from a man named Wolfgang, a member of a secret committee in London that had access to global investment opportunities. In another twist, he said he was waiting for a $1.5 billion check from the estate of a Saudi oil sheik.
Rabinowitz blasted claims by Lubin that bankers, lawyers and accountants had verified that foreign banks were processing a multi-million-dollar inheritance for Zada.
“The evidence is overwhelming that the defendant isn’t getting an inheritance,” she said. “They’re lies.”
UPDATE -- Zada was found guilty this morning and remanded into custody.