Michael Hild isn’t going down without a fight.
The embattled Richmond businessman is making a push to wriggle free from a criminal conviction and potential prison sentence — and he’s doing so by casting blame on his childhood friend-turned defense attorney.
Hild filed a petition last month in Manhattan federal court for a post-conviction acquittal, or at the very least a new trial, arguing that his previous legal team was wrongfully ineffective during his three-week trial due in part to allegedly undisclosed conflicts of interest.
The effort comes as Hild awaits sentencing after a jury found him guilty on all counts for his role in an alleged bond pricing scheme that brought down his Chesterfield-based mortgage company Live Well Financial.
Armed with a new lawyer, Hild argues that his previous attorney Benjamin Dusing and co-counsel Katy Lawrence were secretly litigating multiple custody cases back in Kentucky with two mothers of Dusing’s children leading up to and during Hild’s trial in April.
“This is a case about a defendant who never should have been convicted at trial, and who was deprived of the chance to mount an effective trial defense because his counsel was secretly laboring under serious conflicts of interest stemming from counsel’s own misconduct,” Hild’s recent court filing states.
Hild’s camp argues in the 50-page filing that Dusing and Lawrence hid from Hild and the court their conflicts for fear of being fired or losing their ability to use the Hild case to delay the cases in Kentucky. Lawrence was allegedly helping Dusing with the Hild case while also representing him in the Kentucky custody matters.
Hild claims the Kentucky cases were a major distraction for Dusing and Lawrence as they were actively litigating from afar.
Attempting to illustrate an example of how the two cases coincided, Hild’s new attorney, Brian Jacobs of New York law firm Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello, argues that Dusing and Lawrence asked the Kentucky court to delay those proceedings during the Hild trial. The court ultimately denied the request on April 29, the day of closing arguments in the Hild trial.
Jacobs alleges that Dusing was facing the threat of jail time and the possibility of disciplinary proceedings and an investigation into the bribery of a witness, all related to the cases in Kentucky.
“Mr. Hild appears to have unwittingly funded the “most important litigation” of Mr. Dusing’s life at the expense of his own case,” Jacobs said in the court filing.
The filing cites that the right to a conflict-free counsel is part of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.
Hild also claims Dusing improperly solicited him when he reached out in January 2020 after learning of his legal troubles. The two grew up together as kids in Kentucky.
Beyond the accusations against Dusing and Lawrence, Jacobs also argues that his client should be acquitted “because the proof at trial failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Hild committed any of the charged crimes.”
In particular, Jacobs zeroes in on the prosecution’s presentation of Live Well’s bond pricing practices. The U.S. Attorney’s Office argued that the once-fast-growing company propped itself up by fraudulently inflating the prices of its reverse mortgage bonds and lying to lenders about their value, at Hild’s direction.
But Jacobs claims Hild never intended to defraud anyone. He argues that the company’s pricing calculation methods, including a prominent one called Scenario 14, weren’t based on inflated values but rather an effort to determine accurate values for the bonds.
He claims Live Well’s pricing model was simply superior to the rest of the industry.
“It was not a crime for Mr. Hild to attempt to ‘take advantage’ of Live Well’s “more accurate assessment of the fair market value,” the filing states. “The evidence at trial failed to prove that Live Well misrepresented the bond values, or that Mr. Hild had intent to defraud.”
Hild’s effort at acquittal or a new trial continues to play out, with the next step requiring the government to file its response to the latest filings.
The government argued that it can’t do so until Dusing has had a chance to address the allegations against him. The judge ordered Dusing to do just that under oath in an affidavit.
Dusing, reached by BizSense via email last week, said he would comply with the judge’s order and would not comment beyond that.
And while the process continues to play out, the arguments are having at least one desired effect: the judge agreed that Hild’s Sept. 10 sentencing date can be pushed back if necessary to let the lawyer drama unfold.
Hild was found guilty of five charges, including securities fraud, mail fraud and bank fraud, which call for a combined maximum of 115 years in prison and maximum fine of $5 million.
Jacobs, reached by phone last week, said the recent Hild filings speak for themselves and that he looks forward to letting the case play out in court.
The legal fight in Manhattan isn’t the only one Hild has on his plate.
He and his wife Laura were sued last month by the trustee overseeing Live Well’s bankruptcy case. That multi-pronged case is seeking $110 million for the bankruptcy estate, including potentially taking control of the Hilds’ vast Richmond real estate holdings.