The trial of three officers of Maryland's beleaguered Laurel Raceway opened today with a U.S. prosecutor charging that they raided the track's treasury for their own benefit in a scheme to defraud minority stockholders.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Schulman accused Joseph Shamy, his wife Greta and her father Daniel Rizk of reaping illegal profits from the harness racing track by taking personal loans and awarding a $2.4 million raceway construction contract to a company in which Joseph Shamy held a concealed interest.
"You will hear how Joseph Shamy and his family receives over $1 million -- money that came from Laurel Raceway." Schulman told jurors in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge James R. Miller.
"The government will not contest that the Shamy and Rizk families earned some of this money . . . that the construction project was done," Schulman said.
"What was important is that [the defendants] devised and perpetrated a scheme to defraud minority stockholders" in the track of their right to the officers' honest services, Schulmam said.
Michael Querques, Joseph Shamy's attorney, told the jurors, "We suggest that the government cannot prove its case against this man."
The lawyer argued that when jurors look at Shamy's actions in light of the pressures he faced when taking over Laurel in 1975, they would find his decisions were "not designed to scheme or cheat of defraud anybody, but decisions based upon . . . the instinct of survival."
Querques said Joseph Shamy's actions kept Laurel afloat in the face of stiff competition from the nearby Rosecroft race track and an ultimatum from the Maryland racing commission that he "rebuild the track or else."
The trial of the Shamys and Rizk, all of whom are from New Jersey, is the latest in a series of legal problems for Laurel, a five-eighths-mile harness racing track in Howard County. In 1976 the raceway's old clubhouse was burned down in an arson fire. Since then, the majority owners of the track have been beset with lawsuits by banks, creditors and minority stockholders and by both state and federal investigations.
In court today, attorneys for Rizk and Greta Shamy both reserved their opening statements for a later point in the trial.