Trial under way for couple charged in AEA case
The trial has begun for a Yuma couple accused of committing fraud involving millions of dollars against the AEA Federal Credit Union.
Jury selection was held Thursday in U.S. District Court in Phoenix for the trial of Bill Liddle and his wife, Rhonda. Opening statements were made Friday, and the government is scheduled to call its first witness Tuesday.
According to court documents, the trial is scheduled to last about five weeks.
It's unclear how many witnesses will be called, but the Yuma Sun has learned that as many as 65 people from Yuma may testify in the trial.
The Liddles are facing 68 counts, including conspiracy, fraud and money laundering.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, as the former vice president of business lending for AEA, Liddle authorized more than $25 million in suspicious loans to Yuma businessman Frank Ruiz and another borrower. In exchange, Liddle and his wife received about $1 million in kickbacks that included cash, a house, two vehicles and other financial benefits.
After a lengthy FBI investigation, a federal grand jury in December 2010 handed down the 68-count indictment against the Liddles and Ruiz.
Ruiz reached a plea agreement in June, pleading guilty to conspiracy and transactional money laundering for his role in the misuse of AEA funds that ultimately cost the financial institution millions of dollars and contributed to its insolvency.
His plea agreement includes a stipulation that if Ruiz cooperates fully in the investigation against the Liddles and testifies against them, the federal government will recommend that he receive the lower end of the possible punishment.
His sentencing is scheduled for March 12.
The alleged scheme between Ruiz and the Liddles reportedly took place from mid-May 2005 to late 2009. Ruiz obtained multiple loans for several businesses, including the Yuma Fun Factory and Top of the Kress.
Both were later foreclosed by AEA. The Fun Factory was purchased by Brice and Becky Zeller and reopened on Thanksgiving as Z Fun Factory. The Top of the Kress was closed down on Jan. 1 shortly after revelers welcomed in the new year.
Joyce Lobeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6853. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/jlobeck or on Twitter at @YSJoyceLobeck.