A Northeast Ohio businessman once known for his informercials lost an appeal in a case that stemmed from his trying to sell a Trumbull County mansion once owned by Mike Tyson and a 43-carat diamond to drug dealers.
Paul Monea was convicted of federal charges after agreeing in 2006 to sell the “Golden Eye” diamond and a mansion in Southington in exchange for $19.5 million and a boat through an undercover FBI agent posing as a South American cocaine broker.
Monea argued in a recent challenge to his case that his attorney at trial didn’t properly handle evidence that could have led to his acquittal. A three-judge panel from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed in an opinion issued Tuesday.
Monea, now 72, made millions selling Tae-Bo fitness videotapes and other gadgets through infomercials. He also served prison time for not paying $1.3 million in taxes.
In 1999, Monea paid $1.3 million to Tyson, a former boxing champion, to buy his mansion. Monea was arrested in 2006 and a jury found Monea guilty in 2007 of conspiracy and three counts of money laundering. U.S. District Judge John Adams sentenced him to 12 1/2 years in federal prison.
He was released from federal prison on Dec. 21.
After his initial appeal was denied, Monea challenged his convictions, noting that trial lawyer William Whitaker should have been more diligent in pursuing a defense involving a wire recording made by agents.
He claimed the undercover agent, John Tanza, threatened him and his family, which was the reason Monea went along with the plan that eventually landed him in prison, according to the 6th Circuit’s opinion.
The wire recordings contained no references to any threats, though a private investigator said he found an anomaly on the recording that might suggest the recordings were tampered with, the opinion says. Whitaker, who found out about the anomaly right before the trial began, did not immediately bring it to the judge’s attention, as he did not feel the investigator was qualified to testify about the issue.
The investigator got another witness to confirm the anomaly, and Whitaker brought it to Adams’ attention right before the judge was to instruct the jury on deliberations.
The judge finished the trial and later heard arguments about whether the tape was altered. He denied a request to vacate Monea’s convictions based on evidence provided by the government that showed the tape was not altered.
Monea said Whitaker’s timing denied him the ability to pursue a defense of “outrageous government conduct” at trial and be acquitted as a result. The 6th Circuit didn’t buy it, and the opinion says Monea provided no new evidence or arguments that would have changed Adams’ mind on the issues surrounding the recordings.
“It is not enough for Monea to argue that a different attorney would done a better job,” U.S. Circuit Judge John Nalbandian wrote. “What matters is whether it would have made a difference.”
The court also shot down a claim that Tanza lied on the stand regarding how he structured a $100,000 payment to Monea.
The case against Monea started after FBI and IRS agents were told Canton car dealer Michael “Mickey” Miller laundered money for drug dealers. Miller pleaded guilty to federal charges and testified against Monea at trial.