A judge declared a mistrial Wednesday in the racketeering case against three executives of a former contractor for the city of Orlando, citing inconsistent rulings he had made the previous day that hurt defense attorneys. The trial was in its third day when Orange Circuit Judge Ted Coleman ruled. A new trial will start within 60 days. Frank Stramaglia, president of Vito's Trucking and Excavating, his vice president and brother, Louis Vito Stramaglia, and treasurer Edward Chapman also are charged with grand theft.
Coleman agreed with defense attorney Mark NeJame that he might have biased the jury against the defense. Coleman allowed defense attorneys to tell jurors during opening arguments that they would try to prove a point, then later decided against letting them introduce evidence to prove it.
The judge received the case only two weeks ago after Circuit Judge James Byrd removed himself because prosecutors claimed Byrd would be biased against them. The short notice did not allow adequate time to review all the legal issues, Coleman said.
The charges stem from an $8.4 million contract the company had with Orlando to lay 16 miles of sewer pipe along State Road 436 in 1985 and 1986. Vito's had agreed to pay $4.6 million of that money to another company to supply it with the needed pipe.
Vito's got the pipe and was reimbursed $3.6 million from the city, but it paid only $1.4 million to the pipe company, prosecutors contend. Vito's lied on applications to the city to get the rest of the money and illegally kept it, prosecutors said.
One argument defense attorneys planned to make was that although the city owed Vito's money for work the company had done, it did not pay because the city kicked the company off the project before it was finished. Vito's executives could not have stolen money because money was owed to the company, attorneys argued.
As proof, the attorneys planned to cite a $1.75 million settlement between the city and Vito's insurance company last year.
Coleman ruled before the trial that defense attorneys could not mention the settlement because it was irrelevant to the issue of whether Vito's stole money.
However, on Tuesday, he told the attorneys they could try to prove independently of the settlement that the city owed Vito's money as part of their defense. So the attorneys told jurors that they would try to prove that point.
But later in the day, Coleman reversed himself again and went back to his original stance -- that the issue was irrelevant.
e prevented the attorneys from questioning city officials who were witnesses about money owed to Vito's. Coleman decided Wednesday that the inconsistencies had unfairly prejudiced the jury.
" How can I argue one thing, then not be allowed to bring in the facts? " NeJame asked in an interview. "The jury is tainted."
Assistant state attorney Rick Bogle did not object to NeJame's motion.
Source: Orlando Sentinel