Billionaire Charged in $2 Billion Tax Fraud Says He Has Dementia
(Bloomberg) -- Robert Brockman holds 10 patents. He created one of the world’s top software systems for car dealers and amassed billions in overseas trusts. In recent years, he seemed to some just as sharp. In a 2019 antitrust case, at age 77, he said, “I am into the details, big time.” A year later, he promised to teach a top executive complex tasks.
Yet in 2018, when federal agents raided the Bermuda home of his trust manager, leading ultimately to Brockman’s indictment on charges of evading taxes on $2 billion, prosecutors say he began assembling evidence that his mind was failing. If true, he could be excused from standing trial in the largest such case in U.S. history.
He made appointments for mental health evaluation and received a diagnosis of dementia from four separate doctors -- all associated with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, to which he’d donated more than $25 million over several years.
Now 80, Brockman faces a competency hearing in federal court in Houston starting on Monday. It will determine whether, as his lawyers assert, he’s unable to help them due to declining acuity or, as prosecutors contend, it’s a charade in keeping with a fake paper trail they say he’s built to hide his control of offshore entities. Brockman has pleaded not guilty.
“There is a mountain of evidence on the docket in this case to support the contention that he’s a malingerer,” prosecutor Christopher Magnani said at a July hearing. “A lot of this stuff is very, very objective evidence.”
By contrast, a report filed Thursday by Brockman’s lawyers said recent neuroimaging shows he has dementia caused by either Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or both. This type of testing has near-perfect correlation to autopsy findings of Alzheimer’s, they said.
“Mr. Brockman has dementia, a condition that is permanent, progressive and incurable,’’ the lawyers wrote. “He is incapable of understanding the charges and assisting properly with his defense, and never will be competent to do so.’’
The dilemma for Judge George C. Hanks Jr. is acute in this case in which Brockman is charged with tax evasion, money laundering, wire fraud and other crimes. The case is also larger than Brockman.
The Justice Department has spent five years on it and dismissal could raise doubts about its ability to prosecute tax defendants just when the Biden administration is seeking to bolster enforcement by the Internal Revenue Service.
The stakes are high as well for billionaire Robert F. Smith and his firm, Vista Equity Partners. Smith was a subject of the same probe that led prosecutors to Brockman. As Smith’s original investor, Brockman put at least $1 billion into Vista funds. Smith’s $8.7 billion fortune makes him the wealthiest African-American.
As secretive as Brockman has been, Smith has embraced the limelight, making high-profile gifts and walking down numerous red carpets. It may have been Smith’s 2014 divorce that piqued the interest of IRS agents. In 2016, Vista received a grand jury subpoena seeking information on its investors, including Brockman’s trust, prosecutors said in a Nov. 10 filing. After learning of the investigation, the government argues, Brockman began planning to feign mental incompetence.
Smith avoided prosecution last year when he admitted evading taxes on $200 million of income, agreed to pay $139 million and to cooperate in the Brockman probe. If Brockman is declared incompetent, Smith will avoid testifying at trial.
While a finding of incompetence would spare Brockman from prison, it may not protect him from civil actions. His 2020 indictment led to his resignation from his firm, Reynolds & Reynolds, abruptly ending his half-century career as a brilliant software engineer and businessman. His family has given millions of dollars to scholarship programs, university capital projects and medical research. Its charitable trust has also amassed a fortune that his wife estimated at $7.7 billion, Bermuda court records show.
To make their cases about Brockman’s competence, both sides will rely on medical testimony and records, as well as other evidence. Brockman’s legal team has brought in new experts unaffiliated with Baylor. One of them, Dr. Marc Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist at Miami Jewish Health, wrote, “Mr. Brockman is unable to assist counsel in his defense due to his enduring and progressive limitations in multiple cognitive domains.”
This spring, three government-appointed doctors examined Brockman and concluded he has Parkinson’s disease but he’s competent. But after he was twice hospitalized and then re-examined last month, two of them are quoted in the Nov. 10 filing saying he is still competent to stand trial; the third was unable to make a competency determination.
A key player in this drama is Stuart Yudofsky, a renowned neuropsychiatrist and emeritus professor at Baylor whom the government may call to testify. Brockman and Yudofsky have been close friends for at least a decade. In 2011, Brockman directed his family trust to anonymously endow a $25 million neuropsychiatry program at Baylor named in honor of Yudofsky and his wife, Beth, an email message filed in court indicates. Yudofsky also has served as chairman of the scientific advisory board of the Brockman Medical Research Foundation.
Yudofsky has observed Brockman in “intimate personal settings” like fishing trips, excursions on his yacht and jet, and board meetings and dinners, prosecutors wrote.
Yudofsky’s lawyer has said in court filings that, based on his advice, the doctor will assert his constitutional right against self-incrimination and not testify. Judge Hanks ruled that he can only assert such a right at the competency hearing. At that time, the judge could grant Yudofsky immunity and compel him to testify.
“The government suspects that Yudofsky’s refusal is intended, at least in part, to protect his friend from unfavorable testimony,” prosecutors said in court filings.
Prosecutors say that Yudofsky was also well acquainted with Evatt Tamine, the lawyer whose house was raided in Bermuda. Tamine, who is cooperating with prosecutors, worked closely with Brockman to manage his family trust and other offshore entities. In 2017, Tamine warned his boss he was increasingly concerned about scrutiny from U.S. law enforcement.
Tamine emailed Brockman suggesting he stop traveling to the U.S. with a computer or telephone. Instead, Tamine suggested he keep “all I need at Stuart Yudofsky’s office including a phone,” according to a filing by prosecutors. Prosecutors do not allege that Tamine actually stored a phone at Yudofsky’s office. A lawyer for Yudofsky declined to comment.
In May 2017, Brockman sent Yudofsky an email raising concerns about loss of memory and smell. Prosecutors allege that Brockman wrote the email to “create a paper trail’ that covered his tracks and that he has a “significant history of generating fraudulent correspondence” for future use. Brockman sought a medical evaluation the day after the 2018 raid on Tamine’s house.
Following the Bermuda raid but months before the indictment, Brockman’s lawyers at Jones Day sent a 17-page letter to prosecutors urging them to drop their case. They attached detailed medical reports, including one showing Brockman’s renderings of a clock face in which the numbers veered into the middle of a circle, indicating “fluctuating cognitive functioning.”
One expert put his IQ at 87, recommending that he use caution with household appliances and avoid driving.
The government has noted in court filings that, as he was being diagnosed with dementia in 2019, Brockman was running his company, gave two detailed depositions in antitrust cases and planned cruises with the captain of his yacht, traveling extensively overseas.
In a March 2020 email to the executive who would take over his role as CEO eight months later, Brockman sounded professorial, giving detailed instructions on how to navigate employees and decisions.
“Management of sales decision making is one of the most complex things that I have to teach you about,” Brockman wrote. “It cannot be done quickly -- as the education is focused on many, many situations.”
“The ‘Robert Brockman’ presented in these depositions, hearings, emails, and activities is in stark contrast to the ‘Robert Brockman”’ that appeared in defense medical reports, prosecutors wrote in January.
Mark Lytle, a former federal prosecutor not involved in the case, notes that the judge could hire his own expert if he can’t resolve the differences between those representing the government and defense.
If Brockman is declared incompetent, federal law requires that he be committed to a medical facility for further mental evaluation. Defense lawyers wrote Thursday that because his condition is degenerative and “no available treatments can restore Mr. Brockman to competence,’’ he shouldn’t be put in such a facility. Committing him would, they say, “violate Mr. Brockman’s Due Process rights.”
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