Jury deliberates in Nicolo/Roeder trial

Colleen M. Farrell

A case that has lasted more than two months and first came to light almost three years ago is nearing its end.

Those charged with ripping off Eastman Kodak Co. for millions will soon learn their fates.

The jury began deliberations Wednesday, May 14  in the multi-million dollar assessment scheme that, the government says, included bribing a town official, illegal tax write-offs and fraud committed by two workers at one of Rochester’s biggest companies.

Meanwhile, defense attorneys have argued that their clients did honest work for the money they earned and that the prosecution ignored evidence in favor of relying on a man who admitted cheating his former employer.

The government maintains John Nicolo conspired with former Greece town assessor Charles Schwab and former Kodak tax accountants Mark Camarata and David Finnman to rip off area companies, including Kodak.

Here’s how the prosecution says the scam worked: Schwab would raise assessments of Kodak property so that Finnman, and later his replacement, Camarata, would have Kodak hire Nicolo to negotiate a lower assessment. The prosecution contends Nicolo would split his earnings, which tallied in the millions, with Schwab and Finnman, and later Camarata. Authorities say the kickback scheme also affected IBM, Rochester Gas & Electric, Global Crossing and ITT Industries and the towns of Gates, Greece and Henrietta. Those companies lost much less money than Kodak.

Nicolo and his wife, Constance Roeder, are on trial together, on charges they allegedly filed false returns and took deductions they weren’t entitled to. Roeder and Nicolo did not testify. Finnman spent about five days on the stand. Camarata, Finnman, Nicolo and Schwab were arrested in 2005 and are being tried together.

In its closing arguments, which ended Monday, May 12, the defense chipped away at the prosecution’s case. Nicolo’s attorney Chad D. Siegel argued last week that Nicolo’s performance-based contracts at Kodak, which basically paid Nicolo depending on how much money he saved the company on assessments, weren’t unorthodox. Nicolo paid Camarata, Finnman and Schwab because he had to outsource some of his work due to poor health, Siegel said.

If Schwab was making so much money off of the alleged scheme, why would he leave Greece in 2002, Siegel asked. If the scam was really going on, Kodak would have noticed, he added.

“Everything was out in the open and everything was legitimate,” he said.

Siegel also argued that the prosecution’s case hinges on Camarata, who he said started pointing fingers to cut a deal. Siegel called Camarata a thief and a liar.

“There’s no question Camarata was lying when he said John didn’t do the work he was hired to do,” he said.

U.S. Attorney Richard A. Resnick, the lead prosecutor, agreed with Siegel’s estimation in his rebuttal Monday.

“Mr. Camarata is a snake,” Resnick said. “He is a thief and he is a tax cheat.”

Camarata’s testimony is important, Resnick said, because he was a participant in the alleged scheme. But the government didn’t rely solely on Camarata’s testimony, he added. Even if the jury discounts Camarata’s testimony, Resnick said the evidence is “overwhelming” that the three defendants committed fraud.

There’s no evidence that shows Camarata earned $4.1 million and Schwab earned $1.5 million through legitimate work, he added.

Roeder’s attorney, Paul DerOhanessian, has said his client did work for her husband’s appraisal business and is known for her volunteer work for various charities. Roeder’s sister, Margaret Holderman, testified she saw her sister working on numerous occasions in a home office.

But Resnick said the couple deducted “everything under the sun” and claimed it as a business expense, including antiques, work on their Florida home and ammunition and hunting supplies.

Camarata is facing up to 20 years in prison and a fine of between $20,000 and $200,000. Schwab pleaded guilty in March and faces 19 to 24 years in jail and a fine ranging from $25,000 to $250,000.