On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Indictment No. 06-08-1822.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 3, 2011 - Decided Before Judges Cuff and Fisher.
Defendant and his daughter, Sally McDonald, were indicted and charged with theft by deception and other similar offenses. In this appeal, we consider and reject, among other things, defendant's argument that his convictions cannot stand because the trial judge rejected his proffer of evidence regarding Sally's other bad acts.
Our story, as revealed by the evidence that unfolded at trial, starts with Jagadeesan Poola (Poola). After earning a college degree in India, Poola came to this country to further his education but ultimately established a business in the textile industry in New York City. Poola later partnered with another textile company, St. Andrews Textiles, which employed defendant as a salesman. Poola and defendant formed a close business and personal relationship lasting almost thirty years; they socialized, made investments, and traveled together. In 1999 and 2000, Poola lent defendant money to purchase race horses; defendant repaid Poola with interest.
In late 2000 or early 2001, defendant approached Poola about an opportunity to purchase a horse farm in Kentucky. Specifically, defendant intended to enter into a partnership with Joseph Holloway, a Kentucky horse trainer, to expand his horse-related business. Defendant asked Poola for $650,000, promising to pay interest and a portion of his profits in return. Because of their close friendship, this agreement was not reduced to writing. Poola provided defendant with a personal check dated April 4, 2001, payable to McDonald Racing Stable, in the amount of $675,000.
Defendant never fully repaid Poola, making only small interest payments. In October 2001, defendant approached Poola for a second loan, in the amount of $500,000, to buy out a third partner. Sally McDonald faxed a letter to Poola on October 25, 2001, stating that "for the $500,000, Mr. Holloway would return to Mr. Poola $580,000 and increase the interest payments from $9,000 a week to $18,000 a week." Sally repeated this in a faxed letter, sent on January 30, 2002, also noting that Holloway would pay Poola in full by the end of February 2002. Poola provided a check for $500,000, payable to McDonald Racing Stable.
Poola testified that the verbal agreement called for him to be repaid as soon as the land was sold -- estimated at six to eight weeks -- which would generate a $130,000 profit. Poola's $500,000 check was deposited in a joint account maintained by defendant and Sally with The Trust Company of New Jersey (TCNJ). Within the month, however, TCNJ sued defendant, Sally, and the McDonald Racing Stable, alleging that Sally engaged in a check-kiting scheme with a TCNJ employee.
Over the next three years, defendant provided Poola with numerous excuses for nonpayment, ranging from problems with banks to problems with individuals to problems caused by restraints imposed in the TCNJ suit on defendant's assets.
On June 17, 2002, McDonald Racing Stable faxed Poola details of a $500,000 wire transfer from Holloway; no payment, however, was received. After waiting two more days, Poola made inquiry. On June 19, 2002, McDonald Racing Stable faxed Poola information about a second wire transfer; again, Poola received nothing. A third wire transfer was promised but unfulfilled. To prove Holloway had the money, defendant faxed Poola copies of bank checks and deposit slips suggesting Holloway had in excess of $2,000,000. Defendant also faxed a letter allegedly written by Holloway explaining the delay on the use of an account in a new bank.
On October 1, 2002, defendant provided Poola with a series of bad checks. The first was a $580,000 PNC Bank cashier's check from Holloway payable to Poola. The second and third were PNC Bank checks from Holloway payable to Jackson Garments Import, Inc., Poola's company, in the amounts of $495,000 and $895,000. All three were dishonored. When confronted, defendant blamed the bank and reassured Poola. Defendant also said he would arrange a wire transfer to occur on October 10, 2002; that never occurred. Thereafter, Poola was told Holloway would send a check by overnight delivery. Poola received a copy of a FedEx receipt but no check, and Poola later learned that the provided tracking number on the receipt was fictitious.
Defendant told Poola that Holloway sued PNC Bank and, in support of this claim, provided Poola with a copy of a falsified judgment entered in favor of Holloway and against PNC Bank, dated October 24, 2002, in the amount of $2,954,089.
On January 3, 2003, defendant again provided Poola with three cashier's checks, which were later dishonored, and more documents purporting to have been issued from the Superior Court of Delaware.
In April 2003, St. Andrews Textiles closed its doors, and as a result, defendant claimed he no longer had income. In June 2003, defendant said he would repay Poola from his pension account. Instead, in July 2003, defendant called Poola asking for help because he was facing foreclosure. Notwithstanding defendant's false and empty promises of repayment, Poola sent a check on defendant's behalf to the Monmouth County Sheriff in the amount of $159,209.82. On July 30, 2003, defendant executed a handwritten promissory note in favor of Poola.
At this juncture, defendant began referring to the involvement of a judge sitting in Hudson County (hereafter "the Hudson judge"), who was presiding over the TCNJ suit. Defendant falsely claimed the Hudson judge was a close friend who was helping him get money released from his bank account, which had been frozen by restraints entered in the TCNJ suit. Defendant provided Poola with copies of letters allegedly written by the Hudson judge explaining his efforts; the letters were fictitious.
In December 2003, after providing more worthless checks, defendant faxed Poola copies of documents suggesting that transfers had been made from the trust account of TCNJ's attorneys to Poola in the amounts owed. When the funds did not arrive, defendant provided a letter allegedly written by TCNJ's attorneys to the Hudson judge apologizing for a botched transfer of funds. On December 4, 2003, ...