A would-be film producer from Darlington forged his partner's signature on checks totaling $14,000 and diverted the money into his own accounts, a prosecutor told a county Circuit Court jury last week.
The defendant, John Ward Tower, created an "investment scam" under the guise of producing a film to be titled "Cocoa Beans," but the movie was never made and investors never received their money, the prosecutor said in opening statements.
But Tower's attorney argued that the case is a vendetta against his client by a former movie partner.
Assistant State's Attorney Michael Sanger said in opening statements: "A number of people gave John Tower money to invest. A lot of it didn't go where it was supposed to go. A lot of it went in John Tower's pockets."
Tower, 39, was indicted in February 1991 on 38 counts of forgery after a 16-month investigation by the Bel Air Police Department.
He also has been charged with one count each of theft and fraudulent misappropriations of funds.
The trial, which started Thursday before Judge Maurice W. Baldwin Jr., is expected to last throughout this coming week.
Tower's attorney, Public Defender Robert Winkler, told the jury his client was wrongfully charged. He said the case is a result of a vendetta against Tower by his former partner, Christopher Boardman of Joppa.
"The State's Attorney's Office, for whatever reason, jumped on Christopher Boardman's bandwagon," Winkler argued. "[Tower] is not a guy out to scam people."
Tower and Boardman established Genesis Communications Inc. in 1988 to produce "Cocoa Beans," a full-length comedy about a man importing cocoa beans from the fictional African country of Bhuhana.
Boardman wrote the script for the film and Tower handled financial matters for the company. The partnership attracted at least five investors, who each paid $5,000 for stock in Genesis, Sanger said.
As the company's president and chief executive officer, Tower is accused of withdrawing money from a joint checking account at Forest Hill State Bank by forging Boardman's signature.
Withdrawals from the company's account required the signatures of Tower and Boardman, Sanger said.
The 38 checks -- issued between Sept. 26, 1988, and March 8, 1989 -- ranged from $22 to $1,125, according to an indictment.
Sanger argued that Tower diverted the money to other corporations that he headed. The defendant allegedly used the money for paying personal debts, car payments and advertisements for the Republican Party.
The investigation started when Boardman complained about the checks to Forest Hill Bank officers. The bank filed a complaint with Bel Air police in August 1989.
But Winkler, Tower's lawyer, said Boardman went after Tower because he was unhappy that his partner and the professional film-makers involved in the project wanted changes in the script.
When Boardman refused to make the changes, Tower and the other filmmakers formed another company to produce films and television shows without Boardman's involvement, Winkler said.
In a November 1988 interview with The Harford County Sun, the partners said their company was well on the way to raising the money needed to start production of the planning movie.
Tower and Boardman received a trademark for the "Cocoa Beans" name and were planning to market toys, clothing and candy.
Production on the movie was to start in summer 1989, with much of the filming done in Harford, Tower had said.