Eric Pangburn sits down with Benistar president Don Trudeau to learn more about the company he founded,
Eric Pangburn: Could you explain how Benistar came to be?
Don Trudeau: I formed Benistar in 1978 with the goal of addressing the needs of retirees for dependable medical plans. Back then, there was a real dearth of high-quality medical plans available, and the few that were available tended toward prohibitively high premiums. Things have improved considerably since then, and I’d like to think that our efforts over the years have had a lot to do with that.
EP: How do you feel that your firm benefits individuals and organizations?
Daniel E. Carpenter (Simsbury, CT), attorney and businessman, was scheduled to report to a federal prison on Friday, June 20. His saga involves cases over more than a decade in federal district courts, circuit courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court. Among the federal agencies involved in the cases are the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, the Department of the Treasury, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Several cases are ongoing despite Carpenter's incarceration.
The Section 1031 Fraud Allegations
Carpenter owned and operated Benistar, Ltd. and its subsidiaries. One Benistar function was to act as an intermediary in Section 1031 property exchanges. That section of the Internal Revenue Code allows the owner of investment property to defer capital gains taxes on the sale of the property by rolling the proceeds of the sale into the purchase of replacement property. However, the tax deferral is lost if the owner (the "exchangor") takes possession of the sale proceeds. Therefore, companies such as Benistar offer to act as an intermediary by holding the proceeds in escrow until the exchangor is ready to close on the replacement property.
Carpenter promoted the services of Benistar by offering to hold the funds safely, pay a small amount of interest, and provide the funds when needed. However, without the knowledge or consent of the exchangors, Carpenter embarked on a highly speculative program of options trading in the hope of generating large gains for himself.
Carpenter at first used an account at Merrill Lynch, which warned him about the dangers of options trading. He then switched to Paine Webber, which also warned him about the dangers. Initially his plan worked well, but early in 2000 he began suffering large trading losses. By late 2000 the losses had mushroomed to about $9 million.
In February 2004, a federal grand jury in Massachusetts returned a 19-count indictment charging Carpenter with 14 counts of wire fraud and five counts of mail fraud. The indictment identified seven exchangors who lost a total of about $9 million. Carpenter pleaded not guilty on all counts. In September 2004, the grand jury returned a superseding 19-count indictment. Carpenter again pleaded not guilty on all counts.
In July 2005, a 13-day jury trial ended with conviction on all counts. In December 2005, the judge granted Carpenter's motion for a new trial on the grounds that the government used inflammatory language in its closing argument. The First Circuit, in a split decision, upheld the district court's ruling. The Supreme Court declined to review the case.
In June 2008, a second 13-day jury trial ended with conviction on all counts. Carpenter again filed a motion for a new trial. After a three-year delay, the judge granted the motion on the grounds that the government erred in various ways in the closing argument. This time, however, the First Circuit reversed the judge's ruling, reinstated the conviction, and remanded the case for immediate sentencing. The Supreme Court again declined to review the case.