• December 8, 2016

Bell County man's federal trial ongoing in Florida

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Posted: Tuesday, October 18, 2016 10:34 pm

Perry Don Cortese, the Bell County attorney who practiced in Little River-Academy and is accused of wire fraud and federal money laundering, is on trial in a Florida federal courtroom.

Office staff for Michael P. Maddux, Cortese’s Florida attorney, said Cortese has been on trial for about two weeks.

Cortese and Priscilla Ann Ellis, a Harker Heights resident and businesswoman, were arrested in September 2015 by the U.S. Marshals Service.

They were indicted in August 2015 in the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, on charges of wire fraud and international money laundering.

The indictment said Cortese and Ellis conspired with each other and with Muhammad Naji and other people to commit wire fraud by using wire communications to defraud lawyers and law firms across the U.S., and obtained funds under false and fraudulent pretenses.

The duo allegedly used shell companies with fake names and opened bank accounts in the names of those shell companies at federally insured financial institutions.

In the charge of international money laundering, Cortese and Ellis are accused of conspiring with Naji and others to transmit and transfer money to places outside the U.S., knowing the funds were intentionally being disguised and concealed.

The indictment said the two conspired and participated in fraud schemes as part of a transnational criminal organization operating in the U.S., Canada, Asia, Europe and other locations with the intent of laundering the fraudulently obtained money produced by the schemes.

Maddux tried to get Cortese’s case separated from his alleged co-conspirators by saying their previous actions could jeopardize Cortese’s chance at a fair trial.

“When presented with evidence of a co-defendant’s prior bad acts, the jury is likely to disregard cautionary instructions and consider the extrinsic evidence against all defendants. To prevent Cortese from being convicted on the basis of irrelevant extrinsic evidence, the district court should grant a severance,” the motion said.

Maddux’s office wouldn’t comment Tuesday whether the cases were separated.

If convicted, Cortese and Ellis would forfeit any property, including personal, where proceeds were obtained from, directly or indirectly, because of their crimes.

The property listed to be forfeited includes a forfeiture money judgment in the amount of at least $8.8 million; property at 110 W. Veterans Memorial Blvd., in Harker Heights (PKV Worldwide Wireless, owned by Ellis); and an empty building at 14 and 16 S. Main St., in Temple. Also listed to be forfeited as substitute assets are an empty lot at 1305 Springforest Circle in Killeen and a residence at 1703 S. Roy Reynolds Drive in Killeen, according to the federal documents.

Cortese is the brother of Bell County Precinct 1 Commissioner Richard Cortese.

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