Donnan case goes to the jury

semerson@macon.comMay 14, 2014 

ATHENS - The fate of former Georgia football coach Jim Donnan is now in the hands of a federal jury.

Donnan is charged with 41 counts related to mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. The government charges that Donnan, who coached Georgia from 1996-2000, was an active participant in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors of a combined $23 million.

The defense has argued that Donnan was duped by his ex-partner, Gregory Crabtree, who has pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy.

GLC, the West Virginia-based company started by Crabtree, operated by selling pre-sold goods. Donnan joined in 2007, and a year later began recruiting investors, including his son Todd, and many friends from the coaching industry. GLC ended up collapsing in 2011.

During closing arguments, Donnan's lawyers painted the ex-coach as operating with sincere intent, and just getting burned by Crabtree.

"(Donnan) probably had one of the greatest football minds that ever came through Athens, Ga. But not the best business mind," defense lawyer Ed Tolley told the jury on Wednesday morning.

Jerry Froelich, another of Donnan's attorneys, argued that in order to convict there had to be "an illegal agreement" between Crabtree and Donnan, and that the prosecution never proved that. Tolley followed up by saying the burden of proof had to show that Donnan's acts were criminal.

"It is not a crime to be careless, it is not a crime to be negligent," Tolley told the jury.

Tolley also asked why Donnan - who invested in the company as well - would conspire to defraud himself, if he knew it was a Ponzi scheme.

"I'm not trying to be funny, but it makes no sense," Tolley said.

The prosecution argued that Donnan was an active partner and must have known what Crabtree was up to. Prosecutor G.F. "Pete" Peterman pointed to Donnan being a Hall of Fame coach, running Georgia's program, and being "a celebrity commentator."

"This is a man who is used to being in charge," Peterman told the jury. "This man was the captain of the ship."

Prosecutor Paul McCommon, making the final argument before the jury received the case, argued that while Crabtree was involved criminally, so was the former Georgia coach.

"He calls Greg Crabtree a crook. Maybe so. But there's no evidence that Greg Crabtree became a crook before he got tangled up with Jim Donnan," McCommon told the jury.

He finished by pointing to July 6, 2010, when Donnan talked Athens doctor David Allen into investing $1 million of family savings. Donnan also drew in other investors from that point on, despite not putting in any of his own money after Feb. 2010, according to McCommon.

"He never told any of those people that there were problems," McCommon said. "He lied to every single one of those people by not disclosing to anyone what was going on at GLC."

The prosecution ended up calling more than two dozen witnesses, including fellow coaches who lost money in GLC, such as Tommy Tuberville, Dennis Franchione, Mark Gottfried and Billy Gillispie. Two of Donnan's former Georgia players, Jonas Jennings and Kendrell Bell, were also called to testify about losing their money in GLC. Crabtree was also called to testify.

The defense only called three witnesses. Donnan elected not to testify on his own behalf.

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