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Trainer Carl Conte testifies in Brooks trial

January 29, 2010

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Steve Kallas, a New York attorney, longtime Standardbred owner, and correspondent for The Horseman and Fair World magazine, attended the Thursday session of the trial of David Brooks and filed the following report. 

Late in the day on Thursday, harness horse trainer Carl Conte took the witness stand in Courtroom 1030 of the federal district court in the Eastern District of New York (in Central Islip, Long Island) to testify in the David Brooks trial. Government prosecutor Christopher Caffarone introduced 13 exhibits, admitted into evidence by stipulation of the parties, that turned out to be either check or money wire transfers (or American Express bills) to Carl Conte as payment for training harness horses for David Brooks. All of them were from DHB Capital Group Inc. (“DHB”) or a related company. None were from Brooks himself.

One of the main points of contention in this prosecution is that David Brooks used DHB and other companies to pay for lavish personal expenses including, but not limited to, millions of dollars for his harness horse empire. Brooks’s defense on this issue, according to lead attorney Kenneth Ravanell, is that the DHB board of directors gave him permission to use company funds to pay for personal, as well as business, expenses.

After Conte told the jury (now down to 19 jurors with the dismissal of Juror number 5 earlier this week) that he first trained horses for Brooks in 1998 and then, after a brief pause, again beginning in 2000, Conte was shown a number of wire transfers, including:
1)      A wire transfer to Conte’s bank (to his account), First Union Bank of Monroe, NJ, for $6,600 from DHB Capital Group Inc. (“DHB”);
2)      A wire transfer to Conte’s account for $9,300 from Protective Apparel Corporation of America Inc. (“PACA”)
3)      A wire transfer for $20,000 to Conte’s account from Point Blank Armor Inc. (“Point Blank”);
4)      A wire transfer for $20,000 from NDL Products Inc. (“NDL”); and
5)      A wire transfer to Conte’s account for $2,000 from Tactical Armor Products Inc. (“TAP”).

After showing the jury each of these wire transfers on a big screen and little screens around the courtroom, Caffarone asked Conte if he knew the company that sent the transfer and if he had done any work for the company that had sent the transfer.  To each question about each company, Conte testified that he didn’t know the respective company and didn’t work for the respective company.  What he did was “train horses for Mr. Brooks.”

After introducing this evidence, the prosecutor backed up a little to get Conte’s background, to explain to the jury what harness racing is and to have Conte discuss how he came to train horses for David Brooks.

Conte testified that he had been licensed to train horses since 1979, that “that’s what I’ve done my entire adult life,” and that he started training horses as a “public” trainer for Brooks (at a $50 a day rate) briefly in 1998.

According to Conte, he stayed in touch with Brooks after briefly training for him in 1998.  In 2000, Conte testified that “I was having some financial difficulties and was going to work for a friend when Brooks called me and offered me a job training privately for him.”

So in about May of 2000, Conte went to Showplace Farms in Englishtown, NJ, to train privately for Brooks (at a salary of $2,000 a week).  After a month or so, Conte testified that he was training 25 horses for Brooks.

Conte also testified that, in June of 2000, Brooks gave Carl Conte a DHB credit card “for expenses.” Conte testified that he used it for fuel to ship horses, for hotel rooms for grooms on the road and for other horse-related expenses.  Prosecutor Caffarone then showed to Conte and the jury three “Executive Corporate Card” bills for October, November and December 2000, respectively that showed charges of thousands of dollars that Conte made with his DHB credit card.

After testifying that Brooks had bought five brand new Ford F-350 diesel trucks and five brand new trailers (four Sundowners and a Velore) to start the business, Conte went into what happens at the racetrack, how much money owners and trainers earn from the purses and how win pictures would list the name of the winning owner, trainer and driver.  When asked whether any of the companies that had wired him money over the years was listed as the owner, Conte testified “No, it was always Perfect World Enterprises.”

Conte also testified that he was paid three months in advance by Brooks and was also give $30,000 at the start because of his (Mr. Conte’s) “financial difficulties.”

At the end of 2000, according to Conte, Brooks said that he was having a down year and asked Conte to take a pay cut from $2,000 a week to $1,700 a week, which he did. Then, in November of 2001, Conte went to Florida to train “young horses’ for Brooks and was asked again to take a reduction in salary down to $1,500 a week, which he did.

According to Conte, Brooks “was very involved in the business. Not physically, but hands-on.  He had a lot of input where to race the horses, who was to drive. We spoke pretty much every day, anywhere from five minutes to one hour.”

In 2003, according to Conte “we had a decent year with the young horses.” Conte then admitted that he had received a $10,000 bonus check from DHB “for a job well done, I guess.” Prosecutor Caffarone then showed the jury the DHB check for $10,000 made out to Conte (and referenced in a chart of horse-related expenses in the indictment).

In 2004, according to Conte, they had a “very good year with some of the young horses making quite a bit of money.”  In late December of 2004, “I flew down to Miami to a Christmas party, like a company party.” It was at that party that Conte was given a 2004 bonus check for $20,000. This check, which was also on the chart in the indictment, was a DHB check shown to Conte and the jury.

Indeed, the indictment alleges that DHB paid for non-DHB employees to fly to Miami and for their hotel rooms, but this was not discussed during Conte’s testimony.

Final Direct Testimony

The last thing that the prosecutor did during his direct examination was to ask Conte who a number of people in the horse industry were. He was asked about the following, all of whom presumably had some connection to Conte and Brooks (with his answers paraphrased immediately thereafter):
1)      Seth Fishman – he’s a vet;
2)      Scott Forbes – he’s a horse trainer;
3)      Paul Reid – he’s also a horse trainer who trained for Mr. Brooks;
4)      Bill Davis – he worked briefly with me and trained in Canada for Mr. Brooks;
5)      Tommy Anderson – he sublet stalls to me in Florida
6)      Deshawn Minor – he was my assistant trainer
7)      Gerry Goebel – he was a blacksmith in Florida who shoed horses for me

Brief Cross-Examination

Kenneth Ravanell, Brooks’s lead attorney, then stood up to cross-examine Conte. Maybe unintentionally, Ravanell added some humor to the day when he asked if Conte ever transported “plates” (meaning armor plates) in any of his trucks. Conte said no. When asked again, he said no. Ravanelle asked how he knew what kind of plates he was being asked about and Conte said, “He made body armor, right?”

Indeed, the prosecutor had asked Conte if he ever shipped anything in the trucks other than horses on direct examination and Conte had answered no.

Ravanell then showed Conte two of the wire transfers that had identification numbers at the bottom right-hand corner that started with the letter “P.”Conte said he had no idea what they were for. Ravanell then asked if he knew about one of the Brooks’s accounting firms. Conte said no.

Finally, Ravanell asked whether Conte had the DHB credit card for six months, as he testified, or only for three (since the government only produced three months of AMEX statements).  He said he wasn’t sure.

At that point, Conte’s testimony was over and the jury was dismissed until the trial resumes on Monday, Feb. 1.

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