NEW YORK (AP) — The trial of a Colorado businessman on charges that he ripped off thousands of donors who contributed $25 million to a campaign to build a wall along the southern U.S. border ended Tuesday in a mistrial after jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict in a prosecution that once featured onetime presidential adviser Steve Bannon.
The mistrial in the prosecution of Timothy Shea was granted by U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres after the jury reported for a third time that it could not reach a verdict on any count, saying the deadlock was “abundantly clear.” They said extended deliberations had left them “further entrenched in our opposing views.”
Turmoil during jury deliberations was revealed last week when 11 jurors sent a note to the judge to say one juror who complained about a “government witch hunt” had exhibited “political bias,” labeled the rest of them as liberals and complained that the trial should have occurred in a southern state.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement that the mistrial “in no way lessens our resolve or believe in the powerful and compelling evidence that we strongly believe proves his guilt.”
He added: “We look forward to retrying this case as soon as possible.” A retrial, though, was unlikely to occur before the fall.
Shea and his lawyer did not comment as they left the courthouse.
After two previous notes last week pointed toward a deadlock, the judge had urged jurors to try again.
Shea was left to stand trial alone after Bannon, a onetime adviser to then-President Donald Trump, was pardoned. And two other defendants pleaded guilty. The case was prosecuted in New York after it was determined that donors to the fund were from everywhere in the country, including New York.
Conspiracy and falsification of records charges against Shea were filed after questions arose over how donations were spent from a “We Build The Wall” campaign that raised about $25 million for a wall. Only a few miles of wall were built.
Prosecutors said Shea and other fund organizers promised investors that all donations would fund a wall, but Shea and the others eventually pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars for themselves.
Shea’s lawyers contended that he acted honorably regarding the fundraising campaign and did not commit a crime.
Shea, of Castle Rock, Colorado, owns an energy drink company, Winning Energy, whose cans have featured a cartoon superhero image of Trump and claim to contain “12 oz. of liberal tears.”
Dissension among jurors was first revealed Thursday when 11 jurors said in their note to the judge that they were unanimously requesting that one juror be replaced by an alternate juror. They said the juror had expressed anti-government bias.
In response to the note, the judge questioned the juror in her robing room with lawyers on both sides present.
Among her questions, Torres asked him if he had any biases or personal views that prevent him from being a fair and impartial juror.
He said he did not. So she left him on the jury.
After twice requesting a mistrial on Thursday, defense attorney John Meringolo renewed his request in writing on Friday on many of the same grounds as he had the day before.
He said the jury had violated secrecy rules by revealing too much in its note seeking the disqualification of one juror, and he said the judge improperly referenced political views when she read them a so-called Allen charge intended to add new energy to deliberations.
Meringolo said those instructions in light of what had occurred earlier Thursday could only have been understood to be singling out the juror “and pressuring him to come to a verdict.”