Jury deliberates case of Harford man accused of defrauding U.S. government Leas allegedly used funds to promote wife as singer

April 15, 1997|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

His wife wanted to be a country music star, and she sang a tune called "Long Arm of My Love." Now he's sitting in a federal courtroom, hoping the jury won't convict him in a scheme that boosted her short-lived career by allegedly defrauding the government.

It may sound like a bad country music plot, but it's real life -- and Robert David Leas could face real jail time. Federal officials allege that Leas, a Harford County defense contractor, billed the government for more than $500,000 in expenses and used part of the money to help his now-estranged wife's singing career.

But Alicia Faye Major's singing legacy never went beyond a demo album and a promotional videotape, just two of the items that Leas paid for with money he bilked from the government, prosecutors alleged yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

They claimed he also used the money to pay for her Nashville, Tenn., townhouse and to finance their vacations to Hawaii and Tahiti.

Jurors, who watched the videotape and listened to excerpts of "Long Arm of My Love" during the trial, will continue their deliberations today.

"Do you want to spend your hard-earned money on his toys? His car and his boat and his trips and his country music wife?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara S. Sale asked the jurors in closing arguments, describing Leas as a man who used taxpayer funds for his own "toys and amusements."

"I don't know about you, but I don't like my money being spent so a videotape can be made," Sale said. "Does this man honestly believe that we should pay for a 17-day cruise to Tahiti?"

Leas, 48, president of an Edgewood fuel-tank storage company called American Construction Services, is accused of billing the Federal Aviation Administration for tens of thousands of dollars in unallowable expenses, including South Pacific cruises, child care, the purchase of a Pontiac Firebird and a loan to a friend.

He is also alleged to have billed the government for nearly $500,000 in other claims, using that money to help Major launch a singing career through a promotion company called Major Music Ltd. Prosecutors said he also paid $4,000 a month for a manager for her and hired a former drummer who played for country music star Waylon Jennings. The drummer provided studio help, prosecutors said.

Major, 31, left the Nashville townhouse and now lives in Abingdon. She and her husband are separated; prosecutors say she is not implicated in any of the alleged false claims.

Leas' attorney, Paula M. Junghans, told jurors that her client made mistakes but did not act maliciously in obtaining money. "Not every mistake is a crime," she said. "It is not even a crime to be negligent, even grossly negligent."

She accused prosecutors of clouding the issues in the case with much talk about boats, cars and country music stories.

"They've told you about a lot of things this case would be about, but like a lot of coming attractions, the movie isn't what you thought," she said.

Prosecutors also allege that Leas fraudulently listed his wife -- who is of Native American descent -- as the owner and operator of his business so that he could claim the company was minority-owned, thus enabling him to win $2.6 million in federal contracts from 1990 to 1995.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew C. White agreed that the case resembles a movie.

"The movie we're seeing here is, 'Liar, Liar,' " White told the jury, referring to the Jim Carrey film.

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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