Former Avon resident on trial for allegedly swindling a friend out of $259,000
But defense claims Andrew Thacker is actually himself a victim of a fraudulent scheme
EAGLE — Andrew Thacker, a former Avon resident, is standing trial before an Eagle County jury in district court this week for allegedly swindling a friend out of $259,000.
Thacker has been charged with securities fraud and theft, both class 3 felonies, for an allegedly fraudulent investment he promoted to Edward Koziol, according to charging documents associated with the case.
During testimony Wednesday and Thursday, the prosecution told a story of a loyal friend blindsided by a fraudulent investment while the defense attempted to flip this narrative on its head, urging jurors to consider that narrative presented by the prosecution’s evidence may not be as simple as it seems.
Thacker’s attorneys sought to prove that, in this case, the perpetrator may also be the victim.
Thacker, who owns a number of businesses in the renewable energy sector, is a lean man with a swath of gray hair who carries the energy of someone younger than his 72 years as he strides around the courthouse in a dark blue suit. He was arrested in April of 2019 and his trial, more than two years in the making, began Monday.
If he is found guilty, he could be sentenced to 4 to 12 years in prison and/or fines ranging from $3,000 to $750,000. The felony theft charge carries a mandatory five-year parole and often calls for restitution to be paid to the victim.
Jason Slothouber, an attorney with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, is prosecuting the case and Denver-based defense attorney Gary Lozow represents Thacker.
Like every state, Colorado has strong laws that protect investors against fraudulent investments, said Gerald Rome, who is a former Colorado Securities Commissioner and an expert witness called by the prosecution.
In other situations, consumers are expected to do their homework before buying something, but when it comes to investments, the anti-fraud provision of the Colorado Securities Act places the burden on the seller or promoter of an investment to disclose all pertinent information about the investment and the risks involved in taking it, Rome said.
When Koziol invested over a quarter of a million dollars with Thacker, he said he did not know that Thacker was going to use that money to purchase a brand-new Audi S6 and certainly was not aware that he would have yet to see a single cent of that investment six years later.
Koziol was called to the stand Wednesday morning to tell his side of the story first. He wore a bright yellow shirt and glass that hung from a band around his neck. His brow seemed to be perpetually furrowed and he often became animated as he spoke.
The questioning of Koziol centered around a series of email correspondences between him and Thacker that span across nearly three years. Koziol’s messages oscillate between concerned questions, desperate pleas and pure rage as he slowly realizes he may never see a return on his investment, according to a sampling of the emails presented to the jury as evidence.
Koziol gave Thacker $259,000 in six payments, his portion of the $1 million inheritance that his mother left him and two sisters when she passed away in the spring of 2015, he said.
By that time, Koziol said he and Thacker had been friends for about a decade. Throughout his testimony, Koziol repeatedly referred to Thacker as his “brother” and “best buddy.” The two even lived together when Koziol rented the lock-off apartment in Thacker’s Avon home, where they lived with two other roommates.
A few months after his mother passed, Koziol said Thacker approached him with an investment opportunity to put money into a pool to gain access to an exclusive trading platform that only the richest of the rich had access to – Tier 1.
Koziol had always dreamed of buying a boat and was interested in the prospect of doubling his inheritance, which Thacker told him he could do in 90 to 120 days if he invested in the platform.
“He started painting this super pretty picture,” Koziol said. In addition to a return on investment to the tune of $511,000, Thacker promised him a role in the future that the investment profits would allow him to launch.
After writing those six checks to Thacker, Koziol said he was thrilled. But as the months went by without a return on the investment, he said he became increasingly concerned and angry with Thacker for lying to him.
“It was just a game,” he said in the courtroom Wednesday. That money was all he had, he said, “it was there and then it was gone.”
“You started drooling the minute you heard my mother was going to die,” Koziol said in one email to Thacker. In another, Koziol threatened to “rip his heart out and feed it to lions.”
When asked about these statements in court, Koziol didn’t deny them. He had gone more than a year without seeing any return on his investment stake, and he was angry, but when it came to the threats he said Thacker, or “Drew” as he called him, knew better than to take him seriously.
Thacker’s responses to these emails often took the form of cool, confident assurances, apologies and deference of blame. The money was coming, no need to worry. It was being held up by the World Bank or delayed as a result of U.S. government policy and “a-hole Dems.”
Other times, though, Thacker would let loose too.
“You will get your f–ing money & you can shove it up you’re a–,” Thacker said in one email.
Then, radio silence.
This continued into 2017. Finally, Koziol filed a report with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, he said.
“I’m trying to get my brother back,” Koziol said Wednesday. “I’m mad at him because of what he’s done. He’s still my brother, part of my heart…I want my brother back and I want my money.”
Lozow, Thacker’s attorney, poked a few sizable holes in the image of Koziol as the perfect victim.
Koziol’s threats turned ugly after a while and Thacker’s testimony revealed that eventually he did start to take them seriously, which is why he cut off communication with Koziol.
“I’m coming after you,” Koziol said in one message.
“You’re a f–ing dead man,” in another.
Lozow also attempted to draw a connection between Koziol’s filing of a criminal complaint and the debt he had incurred with the IRS, insinuating that Koziol only took action against Thacker when he did in order to stop collections on his tax debt.
Koziol refuted this, saying that the IRS had already deemed his debt uncollectible after they determined he did not make enough money to keep up with payments and still have sufficient funds to support himself.
But, above all else, Lozow’s defense of Thacker focused on proving one thing: Thacker is also a victim here and, therefore, he could not have knowingly scammed Koziol.
Thacker’s side of the story
After a lucrative career in aeronautics engineering and consulting work, Thacker said he entered into the world of renewable energy around 2005. He served as a consultant on a large wind farm recently acquired by Duke Energy, where he said he saw some limitations and “knew there was a better way to do it.”
So he spent the better part of the next five years coming up with a design for a vertical wind turbine that could be constructed on top of large office buildings and skyscrapers without the spatial limitations of other designs. He was granted a patent for this design in late 2014, he said.
The next step was to build a prototype of the turbine, but that would require an estimated $5 million in capital, Thacker said. And so, as he described it, he spent the next few years traveling the world trying to find someone to put up the funds to breathe life into this revolutionary idea.
At this time, Thacker owned multiple businesses and had cultivated professional relationships around the world through his consulting work, he said.
“Looking back on it, you’re so wrapped up in what you’re doing …” Thacker said of this time period. So wrapped up, apparently, that he walked right into a prime bank scheme.
A prime bank scheme is a technique used by high-level scammers to convince someone to put up “colossal amounts of money” to gain access to an exclusive trading platform, or to benefit off the banking system in a way, they say, few others knew about, Philip Feigin, former Colorado commissioner of securities and expert witness, said in his testimony.
In this case, Thacker was connected with two people: Dr. Nathan Bregman and a woman who went by the name Kelly Diehl but who, according to a private investigator hired by Lozow, has many aliases.
Diehl and Bregman told Thacker about Tier 1, an exclusive program that made money by providing cash to fund overnight trades and then profiting off the interest from the transactions.
The program was so exclusive that Thacker was told he couldn’t even participate as an individual, he recalled. He was told that if he could get a bank guarantee and, with it, a line of considerable credit, this would be enough “proof of funds” to get him in on a deal to pool his money with other, larger investors and get on to Tier 1.
So he sold his home and put more than $200,000 into a bank guarantee, Thacker said. But just as the bank guarantee document was set to receive final approval, there was a problem. A typographical error in the document was holding up its approval and it would take another $19,000 to fix it.
It was at this point, in the early summer of 2015, that Thacker involved his good friend Koziol who he said had been listening to his stories about these financial endeavors and had been wanting in for some time.
Thacker told Koziol that he could get in on the deal if he made a personal loan to his company, Avra Energy-Americas, LLC. In his testimony, Thacker stressed that he described this as a personal loan, not an investment, from the beginning.
“I thought I was doing a good thing for him as well as myself,” he recalled.
With the $259,000 from Koziol, Thacker could cover the new fees that sprang up and fatten the bank guarantee, which he was told would result in more return on their investment sooner.
However, through a lengthy series of events, Thacker realized that the bank guarantee provided to him through a partner he was working with in Mexico was fraudulent.
Betrayed, he cut off all communication with his partner in Mexico, but then entered into another deal with Diehl and Bregman who he failed to realize were in on the scam, he said.
“I was desperate,” Thacker said. “… I’ve had deals go bad before. I’ve never been swindled, I’ve never been cheated like this before.”
Thacker wired $50,000 in funds from his wife’s IRA to the Tier 1 representatives because his own funds were “tapped,” he said.
He was told that he and Koziol would see a return on their investment in three months’ time, he said. This was late 2015.
And then came delays, excuses, promises, all of which Thacker said he passed along to Koziol because he didn’t know what else to do. In the world of prime bank schemes, this process is called “lulling” and is done to soothe the victim, so they won’t report the scam, Feigin said.
“This isn’t like going to a used car salesman, this is subtle over a period of months,” Thacker said of the daily communications with Diehl, Bregman and other Tier 1 scammers.
Based on the prosecution’s questioning of Feigin and Rome, they seem likely to assert that Thacker falling for a prime bank scheme does not negate his guilt in failing to give Koziol all of the relevant facts of the situation before taking his money as an investment.
The defense has dropped hints they will argue that Thacker acted in “good faith” when describing the deal to Koziol because any misrepresentations of the situation were due to his own lack of knowledge about what he had gotten himself into.
At the end of the day Thursday, Thacker sat at the front of the courtroom, looking tired, as Judge Reed W. Owens dismissed the jury, instructing them to be back first thing Friday morning to hear out the remainder of the case.
Email Kelli Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org