John Goodman broke the law by masterminding the release of his Bentley from state's evidence nearly two years ago in the Wellington polo mogul's DUI manslaughter case, prosecutors said this week.
Details of this alleged Bentley scheme — which the State Attorney's Office insists is "very real" yet can't be proven — come just weeks before Goodman, 50, is to stand trial for a second time in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, accused of causing the death of Scott Wilson on Feb. 12, 2010.
The premise is that Goodman or his supporters pretended to be representatives of Bentley insurer The Chubb Corp., and repeatedly called Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office Traffic Homicide Investigator Troy Snelgrove requesting the smashed vehicle after the first trial.
This deception, an illegal practice called "spoofing," was a "calculated attempt to cause a release of the vehicles by third parties to create the issue currently before the Court," wrote Palm Beach County Chief Assistant State Attorney Alan Johnson.
"If someone wanted to create an issue of evidentiary spoilage, this is certainly an avenue, albeit corrupt, to achieve this end," the prosecutor continued. "This argument is not taken lightly by the State, nor is this activity subject to practical corroboration."
In a statement issued Wednesday, Goodman spokesman Gregory Coleman denied the new allegations, saying that prosecutors are "attempting to divert attention away from the real issue …" and that releasing the car before Goodman "had even been sentenced ... has prejudiced Mr. Goodman's right to a fair trial."
The defense last month asked for the charges against Goodman to be dropped because the 2007 Bentley Continental GTC convertible is long gone thanks to the "bad faith" of prosecutors, who gave the car to the insurance company after the trial.
A December inspection of the damaged Bentley, with its new owner near Houston, shows the car is ruined as evidence for the retrial, defense attorneys Douglas Duncan, Scott Richardson and Elizabeth Parker argue.
Goodman has testified the Bentley surged out of control as he tried to stop at the intersection of 120th Avenue and Lake Worth Road in Wellington. Wilson's Hyundai was pushed into a canal, and the 23-year-old drowned.
But prosecutors fired back Monday, saying the vehicles aren't needed to prosecute or defend Goodman, who was convicted the first time "based upon overwhelming evidence of guilt," including a blood-alcohol level of .177, more than double the .08 legal limit
Goodman was found guilty at his first trial in March 2012 and later sentenced to 16 years in prison. He won a retrial because of criminal misconduct by juror Dennis DeMartin, who is serving a nearly 6-month jail sentence.
Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath will hear arguments about the Bentley battle during two days of hearings Feb. 25 and Feb. 26. Jury selection for the retrial is scheduled to start March 3.
Johnson wrote "at most, in hindsight" former prosecutor Ellen Roberts' release of the Bentley and the Hyundai to insurance companies in April 2012 "may have been premature or unwise." But this followed Roberts' "custom and policy" following verdicts in traffic homicide cases.
Nevertheless, the present Bentley controversy is mostly Goodman's doing anyway, Johnson charged. It can't be proved, however, because phone records show calls apparently were transferred from various county extensions into Investigator Snelgrove's line, preventing the true source of the calls to be identified. Chubb said it wasn't behind the calls.
Johnson concluded Goodman, founder of International Polo Club Palm Beach and heir to a Texas heating and air conditioning fortune, must be the culprit because he has the money and clout to pull it off.
The prosecutor argues, "given the seemingly unlimited resources of the Defendant, the number of people who have an interest in the Defendant's liberty, and the utter lack of motive on the part of Investigator Snelgrove to conjure up a reason to have released this evidence based on the facts and circumstances, the potential for either random transferred phone calls or "spoof" phone calls is very real."
Also in its new pleading, the state criticized the defense for making a big deal about the Bentley now after Goodman's original attorneys declined additional testing of the luxury vehicle once the first trial was under way.
Johnson noted that before the trial Goodman's experts had spent more than 2-1/2 days inspecting the Bentley and Hyundai when both were at the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office impound lot.
"To now complain about the destruction of the evidence is disingenuous under these facts and circumstances," the prosecutor said, adding the release of the cars did not "deliberately deprive" Goodman of evidence that could help his case.
Despite that argument, the state sent experts to Texas on Tuesday to conduct a new, "thorough physical inspection" of the Bentley's brake and engine systems.
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