- Associated Press - Friday, March 11, 2011

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - As his trial drew to a close, a former Rhode Island art dealer said Friday that witnesses lied to the jury in claiming he duped them in what prosecutors call a $6 million con.

Rocco DeSimone says his former business partners and investors who testified against him have falsely portrayed him as a con man who systematically defrauded them by lying about access to deep-pocketed business connections.

Witnesses have testified that DeSimone solicited investments in inventions by falsely claiming brand-name companies had offered to buy them for millions of dollars.

In one case, witnesses say, DeSimone falsely claimed that companies such as Fidelity Investments and Raytheon Corp. had offered to buy an invention called the Drink Stik, a device that connects beverage containers to respirators and gas masks worn by soldiers in contaminated areas. The inventor, Robert McKittrick _ a doctor whom a mutual friend introduced to DeSimone _ has testified that DeSimone promised to sell the device in exchange for a one-third stake in the Drink Stik patent. DeSimone then sold shares in that stake.

DeSimone says he never made false promises and that much of what prosecution witnesses have said about him are fabrications.

He said one investor, David Lindsay, who gathered $125,000 in investments from family members and friends _ including a school janitor _ solicited money of his own accord.

He said the Lindsay investments were immaterial to his business dealings.

“David said he wanted to give these people a shot … at making money on the Drink Stik,” DeSimone said. “I didn’t need those small people to be in the business.”

DeSimone also received money and assets from wealthy investors. Prosecutors have called him a “habitual con man.”

“You couldn’t stop yourself at taking money from wealthy individuals _ you had to take money from lower-middle-class individuals,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Vilker said during a cross-examination of DeSimone on Friday.

Lindsay and McKittrick, who were close friends prior to meeting DeSimone, have testified that their erstwhile business partner deliberately alienated them from one another to prevent them from realizing they were being scammed, a claim DeSimone called absurd.

“We were still seeing each other and going to dinner,” DeSimone said.

The former art dealer has said he relied on his accountant to handle his business dealings and attributed to the accountant many of the con-artist qualities prosecutors have pinned on him.

DeSimone, who was convicted of tax fraud in 2005 and briefly escape from prison three years later, has pleaded not guilty to mail fraud and other charges. Closing arguments are set for Monday.

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