Two testify in fraud trial of former Rhode Island art dealer

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – Two key witnesses in the trial of a former art dealer accused of duping investors out of more than $6 million on Thursday portrayed the defendant as an eccentric con man who systematically manipulated his business partners, as defense attorneys called into question the motivation behind one of the witnesses’ testimony.

The defendant, Rocco DeSimone, has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Providence to mail fraud and other federal charges.

Federal prosecutors say DeSimone lied about deep-pocketed business connections to gain an ownership stake in two inventions with the promise of facilitating their sale for millions of dollars. DeSimone employed similar lies to attract and defraud investors in those inventions, according to an indictment.

DeSimone’s attorneys have said their client’s business dealings relied on information provided by his accountant, who they say also had a financial interest in those dealings.

They have also called into question the motivation of a key prosecution witness, Robert McKittrick, a medical doctor whose inventions lie at the heart of the case against DeSimone.

During a cross-examination Thursday, Thomas F. Connors, a lawyer for DeSimone, suggested that McKittrick’s real motivation for going to the FBI – after he became convinced DeSimone was a fraud – was financial. and not, as the doctor claimed, out of concern for DeSimone’s investors. Connors cited transcripts of a recording made by McKittrick show the doctor threatening to report the ex-art dealer to federal authorities if his patent stakes weren’t signed over immediately.

“If (DeSimone) didn’t settle, then the next stage was you were going to take it to the authorities. And he’d be seeing 10 years in jail, and everybody would be chasing him (with lawsuits) until doomsday,” Connors said.

David Lindsay, who introduced DeSimone to McKittrick and later lost tens of thousands of dollars in investments with DeSimone, said he grew confident of DeSimone’s legitimacy after visiting his house, which he said was “like a museum.”

“You just wouldn’t believe how many artifacts he had. It’s amazing,” Lindsay told the jury Thursday.

He said DeSimone’s collection included full suits of knight’s armor and Samurai armor, “lots of animal heads” and the hide of an elephant, which Lindsay said DeSimone had buried in his backyard because it had begun to decay.

DeSimone also bragged of taking part in major European car races and big-game hunts in Africa, Lindsay said.

McKittrick and Lindsay said that, over the course of their involvement with DeSimone, the art dealer systematically separated the two longtime friends, a move they believe he made in order to prevent them from realizing they were being scammed.

In 2008, DeSimone briefly escaped from prison while serving a 2005 tax fraud sentence.

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