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Prosecutors call RI art dealer a ruthless con man

- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2011

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A federal prosecutor said during his closing argument Monday that a former Rhode Island art dealer charged in a $6 million fraud case is a ruthless con man, but a defense attorney countered that his client is the victim of his accountant, a greedy business partner and investors who want their money back.

Rocco DeSimone's mail fraud and money laundering trial has centered on an invention called the Drink Stik, a device that connects beverage containers to respirators and gas masks worn by soldiers in contaminated areas.

Prosecutors say DeSimone promised to sell the invention and lied about access to deep-pocketed investors in order to obtain a one-third stake in the Drink Stik patent from its inventor, Robert McKittrick.

They say DeSimone then convinced a wide array of investors _ from a wealthy Japanese sword collector to a school janitor _ to buy shares in his Drink Stik stake by falsely claiming that major international corporations, including Fidelity Investments and Raytheon Corp., had offered to buy it for millions of dollars.

"Once Rocco DeSimone found a mark _ found a victim _ he would say whatever he needed to say to get them to give him as much money and as much property as they could," Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Vilker said. He added that DeSimone "appears to have taken special pleasure in toying with them."

Prosecutors say that DeSimone strung investors along, concocting new lies to hide old ones, and at times went so far as to openly mock some of them. They say DeSimone employed similarly dubious means to solicit investments in two other inventions, a medical device and a protective covering for CDs and DVDs.

From those investments, prosecutors say, DeSimone either bought _ or received in place of cash _ expensive cars, centuries-old Japanese swords and a 1915 painting by the French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, among other assets.

Thomas Connors, a DeSimone attorney, said prosecutors' case was built on innocent conversations and misunderstandings that were twisted to appear sinister.

"The government is taking little conversations and weaving them into a tapestry to make them look like part of a scheme or a scam," Connors said.

DeSimone did not make false promises and dealt honestly with investors, whom he believed were buying into valuable patents, Connors said. He said DeSimone relied on his accountant, who Connors said held a financial stake in the patents, to handle his business dealings.

In addition, Connors questioned the motive of several prosecution witnesses, who he said had a financial motive to testify because they are involved in a separate lawsuit against DeSimone. He said McKittrick, a key prosecution witness, stands to get back DeSimone's stake in his patents, which Connors said may yet prove valuable.

DeSimone was convicted of tax fraud in 2005 and while serving a sentence for that crime, briefly escaped from prison after he learned that FBI agents had raided his house in connection with the Drink Stik case.

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