- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - A trial is underway in Missoula the case of the former CEO of Vann’s Inc., who is charged with defrauding the employee-owned electronics and appliance store, forcing it into bankruptcy in 2012.

Defense attorney Michael Sherwood told jurors on Tuesday that federal prosecutors could not prove George Leslie Manlove intended to defraud the company founded by his father-in-law.

Manlove faces more than 200 counts including wire, bank and bankruptcy fraud and conspiracy. The case is being heard by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen, who said the trial could last between 10 and 15 days.

Prosecutors allege Manlove and his co-defendant, Paul Lyn Nisbet, created real estate holding companies, bought property and had Vann’s lease that property at above-market rates to repay the loans used to buy the property in order to gain ownership of the property - all without the approval of the company’s board of directors.

Sherwood said founder Pete Vann and other members of the company’s senior management had also created real estate holding companies for properties that housed Vann’s stores.

Manlove used company money for personal expenses, including vacations, and spent $200,000 to receive a master’s degree in business administration, prosecutors argued.

Sherwood countered that Manlove believed he needed more education to help the company as profits slipped, and that he had the authority as CEO to spend that money.

Prosecutors note Manlove left Vann’s shortly after finishing his degree.

Nisbet, the company’s former chief financial officer, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and was sentenced to 14 months in prison. He is scheduled to testify during Manlove’s trial, The Missoulian (https://bit.ly/2jKSEPZ) reports.

A group of former employees filed a civil lawsuit against Manlove and Nisbet, alleging their financial indiscretions led to the bankruptcy that made their $9.2 million in stock worthless. The lawsuit was settled for $7.3 million in 2014.

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Information from: Missoulian, https://www.missoulian.com

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