By BILL DRAPER
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) â¿¿ Despite the best efforts by federal prosecutors to portray the company he founded in 2007 as worthless, Isreal Owen Hawkins told jurors Tuesday that Petro America Corp. is real, has real assets, and is in trouble only because big government decided to destroy it.
Hawkins, 57, and four co-defendants are charged in federal court in Kansas City with conspiracy to commit securities fraud and assorted other counts involving Petro America, which company leaders touted as having $284 billion in assets â¿¿ second in the U.S. only to Exxon â¿¿ despite being in existence less than three years.
Hawkins, who represented himself in the more than three-week trial, showed jurors several large binders during closing arguments Tuesday, telling them they contained contracts for billions of dollars in mining and oil operations."The government is trying to convince you that this company isn't real," he said. "They're railroading people. They're railroading shareholders." Of the five defendants on trial, Hawkins was the only one who claimed the case against Petro America was part of a "big government" conspiracy. Attorneys for the other four â¿¿ Theresa Brown, Johnny Heurung, William Miller and Martin Roper â¿¿ claimed their clients were true believers in the company who acted on good faith, and that any misrepresentations to shareholders were because that's what Hawkins had told them. In her closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate Mahoney questioned whether Hawkins was "delusional or really that stupid" to believe he could build what would be the nation's second-largest corporation with no financial investment of his own in such a short period of time. "You don't have to be around him very long to realize he is utterly incompetent," Mahoney said. "He doesn't follow through, he just makes excuses. He thinks this is how business is done."