The federal criminal trial of Richmond businessman Michael Hild is set to begin this morning, nearly two years after he was first arrested and charged in an alleged multi-million dollar bond scheme amid the collapse of his once-thriving mortgage company, Live Well Financial.
Hild, who faces charges of securities fraud, mail fraud and bank fraud, will argue his innocence in a Manhattan courtroom before U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Abrams and a 12-person jury.
The trial is expected to last several weeks, with the proceedings beginning each day at 10 a.m. Due to limited in-person attendance at the courthouse, pandemic-era rules allow for an audio broadcast of the trial, which the general public can dial into at (888) 363-4749 and with access code 1015508#.
The first day is expected to include final jury selection and opening statements.
Hild has pleaded not guilty to each of the five counts he faces.
“He’s looking forward to his day in court,” Hild’s attorney, Benjamin Dusing, said when reached Monday evening. “It’s been a long journey. Now it’s about the facts and the law.”
Federal prosecutors allege that from 2015 to 2019, Hild, who was Live Well’s founder and CEO, helped mastermind a scheme to defraud the company’s lenders by falsely inflating the value of a portfolio of bonds, in order to induce the lenders into loaning more money to Live Well than they otherwise would have.
The lenders were Mirae Asset Securities, Flagstar Bank and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. The government alleges that Hild personally pocketed more than $20 million as a result of the scheme. The lenders have continued to jockey for repayment in Live Well’s bankruptcy case, which is ongoing.
Hild, who has remained free on bond since the arrest, built Live Well from scratch beginning in 2005 after working as an executive at Capital One. The Chesterfield-based company originated, wholesaled and serviced reverse mortgages, and grew to be listed among the region’s fastest-growing businesses.
Live Well had upward of 300 employees in offices in Richmond and San Diego before its abrupt closure, which was followed by the company being forced into bankruptcy liquidation by the three scorned, aforementioned lenders.
Court filings state Live Well was in a $65 million hole due to the debt it owed the lenders and the true value of the allegedly inflated bond portfolios used as collateral.
Hild was arrested and charged in August 2019. His trial was initially set for October 2020, but was delayed due to pandemic-related scheduling issues.
The saga also led to the arrest of former Live Well CFO Eric Rohr and Executive Vice President Darren Stumberger. Both have pleaded guilty to criminal charges and are expected to testify during the trial.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York is prosecuting the case.
Dusing is a former federal prosecutor and a childhood friend of Hild’s from their high school days in Kentucky. Hild hired him last year to replace a team of attorneys from Murphy & McGonigle in Washington, D.C. Dusing’s firm BGDLaw is in Fort Wright, Kentucky.
Dusing said he’s approached the case like any other, but that it does have an added dynamic knowing that he’s fighting for the innocence of his longtime friend.
“I owe (clients) 100 percent effort and dedication. So in that sense it’s not any different,” Dusing said. “On a personal level, it’s a lot different.”
And for those who’ve read of the allegations and have already made up their minds about Hild, Dusing said only the trial can clear the air.
“It’s human instinct (to believe) where there’s smoke there’s fire,” he said. “But we all know there’s always more to the story and from the defense’s perspective you don’t get to tell it until trial. To date it’s been pure allegations. This is when the truth comes out.”