- Associated Press - Friday, May 16, 2014

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - Former University of Georgia football coach Jim Donnan was acquitted Friday of a long list of charges related to an investment fraud scheme, looking relieved as he put his head in his hands and then hugged teary family members in the courtroom.

The 69-year-old former coach had faced 41 counts charges including conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. His lawyers said he was duped and thought he was sharing a great investment opportunity with friends.

In an interview at his home after the verdict, Donnan said that even compared to the many high-pressure games he coached, “nothing even comes close to approximating that minute when the judge announced the verdict.”

“The apprehension and the anxiety was overwhelming,” he said.

Donnan said his family gave him inspiration to turn down a plea deal that prosecutors offered him, despite facing so many charges.

“There was no way I could look at my children or my grandchildren or my wife, knowing my innocence, and take something like that,” he said, adding that his confidence was bolstered by previous victories in related civil cases.

Defense attorney Ed Tolley said he was “very moved” that Donnan was found not guilty on all charges.

“I’m so grateful to the jury that they paid attention,” said Tolley, who’s been the coach’s friend for more than 20 years.

U.S. Attorney Michael Moore, whose office prosecuted the case, said he respected the jury’s decision.

“Once we have put forward our case, our job is not to question the jury’s verdict, but to respect it,” he said.

Prosecutors had said Donnan and Gregory Crabtree of Proctorville, Ohio, ran a fraudulent investment scheme from September 2007 to December 2010 through GLC Limited, a West Virginia-based company dealing in wholesale and closeout merchandise.

Crabtree pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy charge last month and faces up to five years in prison.

Crabtree and Donnan promised high rates of return. But when the company failed to turn adequate profits to make those payouts, investors were paid with money from other investors, prosecutors said.

Donnan’s attorneys maintained that he was also a victim in Crabtree’s scheme and that he thought he’d found a great investment.

The jury foreman, Artis Ricks, said he believed Donnan was as much a victim as other investors.

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