Judge sets date for Cay Clubs trial

The cost of holding a lengthy bank-fraud trial in Key West for former Keys real-estate executives Fred "Dave" Clark and his wife Cristal Coleman Clark requires a location change to a Miami courtroom, a federal district judge has ruled.

The trial, most recently scheduled for March 16, has been pushed back until June 1, U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez said in his decision.

It "would not be practical to try this six-week case in Key West because of the expense, inconvenience and general hardship during the high season," Martinez ruled Jan. 21.

Cay Clubs Resorts and Marinas, based in Key Largo, acquired a network of resorts in the Florida Keys, Clearwater and Las Vegas beginning in 2004. Operators sought to sell individual units to investors as condo-hotels.

The firm collapsed in 2008 under pressure to meet financial commitments and failure to perform promised resort renovations. Banks and about 1,400 investors lost an estimated total of $300 million, according to court records. The Clarks fled to Central America shortly later.

The Clarks -- Dave was Cay Clubs president, Cristal was a manager -- are charged with multiple counts of knowingly giving banks false information to secure mortgages for condo-resort units with artificially inflated prices.

Motions in the case appear to suggest the two married defendants disagree on when the trial should begin.

A motion for a delay was submitted by federal public defenders representing Cristal Clark, 41, and supported by prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The defense team for Dave Clark, 56, contended in response that he was ready to go to trial March 16, although Clark agrees the case should be tried in Miami. 

Both Clarks remain in custody at the Miami Federal Detention Center after being designated flight risks.

Cristal Clark's public defenders, appointed in September after she claimed to be indigent and unable to pay private counsel, pointed to the "complexity" of the Cay Clubs case that requires "voluminous discovery."

Dave Clark's legal team of three private attorneys protested that he has been jailed since last June, when he was extradited from Central America on counts of obstruction and mail fraud. 

"Because of his incarceration, his speedy-trial rights are that much more important," one of Clark's defense attorneys, Valentin Rodriguez, wrote. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerrob Duffy responded that prosecutors are not responsible for causing any delay.

Duffy said the defendants' differing stances on trial dates "are due to the strategy of co-defendant Dave Clark retaining three separate private counsel, and leaving his wife, defendant Cristal Clark, to rely upon the federal public defender for her defense."

"In reality, the defendants' strategy appears to be to marshal their resources for three separate counsel for Dave Clark, and bring in the federal public defender so that witness fees, any expert fees and other additional resources can be added to what is otherwise a joint defense team," the prosecutor said in a motion.

The ruling by the judge moves the trial for both Clarks to June.

The Clarks have pleaded not guilty on multiple fraud counts from the Cay Clubs debacle, which the federal government has termed a Ponzi scheme.

Two former high-ranking sales executives for Cay Clubs, Fort Myers residents Barry J. Graham, 59, and Ricky Lynn Stokes, 54, have reached plea agreements with prosecutors on single counts of bank fraud. Stokes and Graham are expected to be required to testify in the Clarks' trial. A former Cay Clubs attorney has been given immunity in exchange for testimony.

Dave Clark faces 10 counts; each carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Cristal Clark faces nine separate counts with similar possible sentences.

Cristal Clark was arrested in June 2014 in Honduras. Dave Clark was arrested at the same time while traveling from Honduras to Panama.