Robert Michael is a “sharp” and “astute” businessman, his attorney claims.
But the former CEO of the failed Citizens Bank played the role of federal defendant Monday as prosecutors put him on trial for alleged fraud, lies and money laundering tied to real estate deals involving disgraced former Country Club Hills Police Chief Regina Evans.
The feds have accused Michael and Evans of designing sham real estate transactions truly meant to generate cash for Evans’ entertainment business. They allegedly did so with help from former Chicago Police Lt. Erroll Davis, who is expected to testify during Michael’s trial.
Scott Frankel, Michael’s attorney, made a point of attacking Davis’ credibility during opening statements Monday. Davis pleaded guilty in December 2013 — weeks after he’d been indicted with Michael — and admitted he filed phony tax returns.
“We know he’s a proven liar,” Frankel said of Davis.
Evans was sentenced in a separate case to five years in prison in 2014 for stealing more than $900,000 in state grant money. While implicated in the case against Michael, she has not been charged.
The phony real estate deals designed by Michael and Evans ultimately funneled $634,000 into bank accounts they controlled, prosecutors claim.
The feds say Michael leased a Dolton nightclub to Evans in August 2007 through their respective businesses. Evans also used two of her businesses in March 2008 to purchase the New Regal Theater property, which included the Regal Theater, two parking lots and a 12-unit apartment building at 1665 E. 79th, records show.
Michael allegedly prompted Citizens Bank to loan Evans $2.1 million to buy the property, but the feds say he excluded the apartment building from the collateral securing the loan. Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Church told a jury Monday that Evans owned the apartment “free and clear” as a result.
That helped Michael and Evans evade Citizens Bank’s legal lending limits, the feds say. It was also allegedly meant to help Evans generate new cash she could use to pay the rent she owed Michael’s company for the Dolton nightclub lease. By the end of 2008, the feds say Evans owed him more than $240,000.
Michael allegedly led Citizens Bank to loan $650,000 to Davis for a phony purchase of the apartment building, supposedly for $900,000. Michael and Evans even created false leases to show cash flowing to Davis at the building, Church said.
“It’s all false, and he knew it,” Church said of Michael.
Michael ultimately engineered the deal so that a $634,000 check would be deposited into the trust account of an attorney representing Evans. That attorney, John Klytta, then issued checks to accounts controlled by Michael and Evans, according to the feds.
Frankel said the decisions made by Citizens Bank to lend Evans and Davis the money were “smart business decisions” that were correct at the time. He said Evans and Davis did the lying, and he said there is no evidence Michael took part in it.