SARANAC LAKE - The trial of a Saranac Lake native accused of defrauding investors out of millions of dollars has been moved to California, where he's still recovering from serious injuries he suffered in an explosion last year.
U.S. District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy, in an Oct. 4 decision, granted a change in venue motion submitted on behalf of William Stehl, who's facing federal fraud charges. He was originally scheduled to stand trial in U.S. District Court in Binghamton.
"Given defendant Stehl's serious medical condition and the fact that the necessary documents and witnesses are easily transported to the Central District of California, and there are no substantial ties to this District," McAvoy wrote, "the court finds that the interests of justice warrant transfer to the Central District of California."
(Enterprise file photo)
Stehl, a 1962 graduate of Saranac Lake High School, and his business partner Richard Rossignol were arrested in late March 2010 in the Los Angeles area. They were accused of a decade-long fraud scheme, bilking investors out of more than $6 million by convincing them to invest in companies Stehl was affiliated with that were purportedly developing an alternative energy source.
Two of those companies, Rainbow Technologies and BGX Technologies, were formed in New York and operated out of the town of Harrietstown's airport business park when Stehl lived in Saranac Lake from 2000 to 2005. In 2005 he moved to California.
Stehl and Rossignol were indicted in March 2010 by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Stehl was also charged with making false statements to a federal agent and income tax evasion.
The two men were scheduled to stand trial in Binghamton in September 2011. But Stehl, who's been free on $100,000 bond, and a potential witness in the trial named Timothy B. Larson suffered gruesome injuries when a tank containing volatile hydrogen exploded at the alternative fuel business they were working at in Sylmar, Calif., on Aug. 9, 2011. The force of the blast ripped the roof off the 7,400-square-foot building, and the two men were thrown into an alley, according to a report from the Daily News of Los Angeles.
The accident severed Stehl's left arm below his elbow, and he suffered burns to 40 percent of his torso, two broken legs and other injuries. He was in a medically induced coma for four weeks. Larson had both his right arm and right leg severed in the blast.
Stehl's attorney, James Long of Albany, subsequently asked the court to move the trial to California so his client could be closer to his medical providers there, noting that Stehl needs medical attention 24 hours a day. Since the original accident, Long said Stehl fell at his home in February 2012 and severely injured his head.
Long provided statements from Stehl's doctors that indicated travel would be "medically counter-indicated for at least one year from March 2012 and that the defendant was medically unfit to participate in is defense during that period of time." He also said neurological tests have found Stehl has suffered memory loss due to the original accident and the more recent head injury.
Long argued that Stehl's condition "cries out for a change of venue in the interests of justice."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Dooley, in a Sept. 7 court filing, said Stehl has been inconsistent in his requests for a venue transfer and that not enough evidence had been submitted supporting his claim that his medical condition warrants a move to California. Citing Stehl's family members, Dooley said Stehl has made "significant progress in his recovery" and that he is "of sound mind and has no difficulty whatsoever in communicating."
Judge McAvoy rejected those arguments, siding with the testimony from Stehl's doctors who advised against him traveling to New York. The judge noted that Stehl remains confined to a bed and "in need of continuous medical care and assistance with activities of daily living." He also said Stehl's medical providers are in California and his medical services are being provided by Medi-Cal, a California state-sponsored health insurance program.
Since the charges against both Stehl and Rossignol are based on the same material facts, "the interest of justice dictated that the entire case be transferred," the judge wrote.
The trial date in California has yet to be set. It's expect to last up to eight to 10 weeks.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.