By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Senerote says he regrets what happened; he claims it's "highly unusual" for a bankruptcy trustee to leave the task force in the dark about its auctions. Nevertheless, his case against Turner was proceeding apace.
Turner must have felt trapped between the civil cases filed by Crandall, the bankruptcies of his businesses, the anger of his clients, and the broadening criminal investigation spearheaded by Senerote. He left his job with Royal Alliance--an amicable parting, it claimed--and had no brokerage firm to sponsor him. Apparently out of money and out of luck, with the Thanksgiving holiday behind him, Roger Turner decided to give up.
It was standing-room-only on May 12, 1998, when Federal Judge Joe Fish convened court in Dallas to set punishment in the case of the United States vs. Roger Turner. Filling the gallery and lining the aisles were the many victims of the miscreant broker. Many came to get closure, hoping he would confess, come right out and say he had stolen their money like a thief in the night.
Bonnie Bennet and Vivian Palfi were there. And like the others, they couldn't help but notice how Roger had "dressed down" for the occasion--his hair looked disheveled, his clothes "off the rack," a reversal of fortune from his dapper days of tailor-made suits. Casting himself as a penniless bankrupt was just a play for leniency, they thought; they wouldn't put it past him to have decided to become a father just so he could arouse even more sympathy from the court.
They figured he had used the same type of ploy before, telling prosecutors, his public defender, anyone who would listen that the reason he wanted to get his case over so quickly, the reason he had pleaded guilty on December 17, 1997, to one count of securities fraud was so he could return to his family as soon as possible. He wanted to be there for his daughter before she started school. He just couldn't risk being gone.
But the harder Turner fought the charges, the deeper the U.S. Attorney's Office would dig. Part of his plea bargain was that the government would bring no further charges arising out of his business dealings--not only against him, but also against his wife. Laura Turner had been named as a defendant in at least one of Crandall's civil cases, but with this deal, she could not be prosecuted criminally, at least in federal court.
Laura Turner, who now lives in Houston, is moved to tears by the suggestion that either she or her husband actually stole money from clients. "His goal was to make everyone rich," she says. The 32-year-old admits she managed her husband's office, including reconciling his bank statements, but claims she is not really a "numbers person."
Judge Fish sentenced Roger Turner to 34 months in prison. Showing some compassion, the judge granted Turner's request that he be allowed to wait until after his daughter's first birthday before surrendering himself to the Federal Corrections Center in Beaumont on July 14. Once released, he will have to make restitution to the 22 victims who had leveled charges against him. Turner is required to make a minimum payment of $200 a month to be split among all 22 victims until he pays a total of $892,000. After that, Royal Alliance will receive installment payments for more than $2 million in restitution, approximately the same amount that sources close to Turner claim the brokerage firm has already paid in out-of-court settlements to Turner's victims. "Once we learned what Roger Turner's actions were, Royal Alliance stepped to the plate," says Dallas attorney Karl Dial, who represented the brokerage firm. "We settled quickly with all people who submitted valid claims."
Jeanne Crandall is outraged by Turner's sentence, believing the prosecution barely skimmed the surface of his criminal behavior. She and lawyers for several victims believe Turner was engaged not only in fraud but outright theft. Perhaps he had money hidden in offshore accounts somewhere--he had told clients he wanted to live on the French Riviera. And for Crandall, the numbers just don't add up. She believes that Turner had more bank accounts than even she could find and is convinced that more bilked investors will come forward in the future. "The IRS and the FBI have wonderful international computers where this information might be obtained, yet no one has made any effort to trace the many cash transactions that occurred here."
Senerote explains that he can't comment on the methods used to look for offshore accounts, but says that his investigation concluded that Turner was drawing out cash only to use as "operating money" for his companies. Crandall counters that her investigation shows a large number of cash transactions that remain unaccounted for.
Roger Turner bristles when he hears that Crandall is still accusing him of actually stealing money from his clients. In an interview with the Dallas Observer before he went to prison, Turner says Crandall just doesn't know how to read a simple bank statement. "What they're saying I did is different than what I pleaded guilty to. People are saying that I took their money. That I used their money...Of course, everybody focuses on my Jaguar. That was probably my vice in life. Yes, I love the 4-door Jaguar. And you know what? I leased that for $485 a month."