FAYETTEVILLE -- Two men were convicted Friday on all counts for defrauding investors in a failed Elm Springs wind farm project and the development of a wind turbine that was never built.
A federal court jury convicted Jody Davis and Phillip Vincent Ridings on multiple counts of wire fraud, aiding and abetting wire fraud, money laundering and aiding and abetting money laundering/
In a closing argument Thursday, Kenneth Elser, deputy U.S. attorney, told jurors the wind farm project, called Dragonfly, was nothing but a long-term scam netting Davis, Ridings and others more than $700,000 between 2014 and 2018.
"Tell 'em whatever you need to tell them to get their money," Elser told jurors in his closing. "That's what this case is about."
That figure doesn't include the losses suffered by people who did work for Dragonfly and were never paid or the person who was left holding a $2.3 million property loan.
Elser told jurors Davis and Ridings lied, concealed information, and used half-truths and fraudulent documents to lure investors, then they'd split the take and live on it. Investors were told their money was going to pay for specific work on the turbine design or prototype and models or studies, none of which were not being done, he said.
"That's a lie, and that's what happened over and over and over again," Elser said. "It was fraud from the beginning, and it was fraud throughout."
Promises to pay people back were intended to keep them quiet so Davis and Ridings could move on to the next scam, Elser said.
Elser called Dragonfly a paper company with a paper wind turbine being used to build a paper wind farm.
"This was not ever going to work," Elser said.
John Wesley Hall, Davis' attorney, told jurors the two men made mistakes and bad choices in how they handled money and used bad judgement, but had no intent to defraud.
"They believed in Dragonfly," Hall said. "They still believe in Dragonfly."
Hall also said much of the fraud was perpetuated by a third man, Cody Fell, who is Davis' brother-in-law and worked at Dragonfly for a time.
Fell of Springdale pleaded guilty to federal wire-fraud and tax-evasion charges in December 2018. He agreed to cooperate with the government and testified earlier in the week that he was given more than $100,000 of investors' money by Davis and Ridings. He will be sentenced after Ridings and Davis.
Hall said Davis and Ridings used investor money for living expenses because they were trying to get the company off the ground and didn't have other jobs.