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Avery again charged with bilking woman

Posted: October 18, 2013 - 12:06am

ANCHORAGE — A former Anchorage man has again been accused of stealing $52 million from a woman and her trust fund, spending the money on luxury items like two homes, vintage World War II-era fighter jets and a yacht.

Mark J. Avery, 54, pleaded not guilty Thursday to five counts of wire fraud and 10 counts of money laundering after being indicted by a federal grand jury, assistant U.S. attorney Steve Skrocki said.

Avery, now of San Francisco, pleaded guilty in 2007 to defrauding May Wong Smith and the May Smith Trust, of which he was an appointed trustee.

A 2010 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the definition of the kind of wire fraud to which Avery pleaded guilty, according to an opinion issued in June by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court said the type of “crime” that Avery admitted is no longer a crime.

In a 2011 appeal, Avery, a former Anchorage and state of Alaska prosecutor, argued that he had pleaded guilty to wire fraud under the honest services theory, something that is no longer a crime. The circuit judges agreed and returned the case to federal court in Alaska for further proceedings.

“We’re essentially starting over from scratch with this investigation and this case,” Skrocki said. “His conduct still falls within the wire fraud statute in that he illegally obtained money and property from the May Smith Trust, so the statute still covers his activity even though the 9th circuit reversed the prior case.”

Michael Dieni, a federal public defender assigned to the case, declined immediate comment Thursday, saying he had just received the case.

Federal prosecutors allege Avery was a trustee and lawyer to the trust fund starting around 2002, and was paid $600,000 yearly, according to a release from the U.S. attorney’s office announcing the grand jury indictment.

Prosecutors said Avery also owned a number of businesses in Anchorage, including aviation charter and medevac services and real estate, and many of these opened after he became a trustee.

Authorities say Avery used the assets of the trust for a $50 million loan to himself and used it for personal gain.

The laundering charges alleged he used the loan to pay off the mortgages of two homes and to buy things like the vintage aircraft, other airplanes, a 47-foot Carver yacht, and a 37-foot heavy patrol boat.

Wong was born in China in 1922, and married Stanley Smith of Australia shortly after World War II. Authorities said he amassed a great fortune in postwar investments, but died in 1968. His widow never remarried.

In the early 1980s, she began to show signs of dementia, the release says, which continued to the point that she needed live-in care from 1991 until her 2006 death in the Bahamas.

She spent a majority of her life in the Bahamas. When she became older, trustees moved her to London, then to Guernsey before she returned to the Bahamas, Skrocki said.

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