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Judge: Man accused of swindling investors is ‘cantankerous,’ not incompetent

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    SHREVEPORT, Louisiana (KTBS ) — Accused swindler David deBerardinis, whose federal criminal case has dragged on for three years as lawyers raise issues about his sanity, is “cantankerous” and “obstinate” but not mentally unfit to stand trial, a federal magistrate in Shreveport said in a pretrial ruling.

deBerardinis, who ran an energy trading business in Shreveport, is accused of swindling lenders and investors out of tens of millions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme.

It is the latest development in pretrial jockeying over deBerardinis’ mental condition. In court filings, defense attorneys say deBerardinis might admit the whole thing was a fraud but claim associates took advantage of him because of his mental illness.

deBerardinis, 59, has raised the mental competency issue twice and been evaluated. Both times U.S. Magistrate Mark Hornsby has found him legally competent to stand trial.

“Defendant is cantankerous and willfully obstinate, but he is not incompetent,” Hornsby said in a 12-page ruling at the end of last week.

deBerardinis is free on bond awaiting trial scheduled for July 6.

Hornsby has questioned the timing of the insanity claim and said victims and the public could see it as delaying the day of reckoning. He granted the second round of mental evaluations out of an “abundance of caution.”

That frustration was echoed by Michael Long of Shreveport, whose late brother was among deBerardinis’ investors.

“We’re all frustrated by him and his delay tactics,” Long said Wednesday after speaking with another investor. “We understand some cases take a long time to get to trial; this one has been exceptionally long. We want to get some resolution.”

deBerardinis is charged with scamming just over $100 million from investors and banks, who believed they were loaning him money to act as a middleman in energy trades. Investors loaned deBerardinis money at double-digit interest rates.

Federal prosecutors say no trades were made and that deBerarinis was running a Ponzi scheme where money from newer investors was used to pay back earlier investors while he diverted money to himself. Documents were forged to make it look like trades were being made, prosecutors said.

In court filings, deBerardinis’ lawyers have said that deBerardinis has indicated he might acknowledge fraudulent behavior but that he was insane and was “taken advantage of by at least some of his management team.”

deBerardinis is the only person charged in the case.

“It blows my mind that he claims to be an innocent bystander,” Long said. “Unless somebody had a gun to his head and had him acting out of fear for his and his family’s wellbeing, at the end of the day he’s just as guilty as any accomplices. It appears they were all in it together. He’s never introduced any evidence otherwise.”

A psychiatrist whose opinion is supported by federal prosecutors said earlier that deBerardinis was in an early, mild state of dementia. Doctors who testified on behalf of deBerardinis said his condition was more severe and is worsening.

deBerardinis’ lawyers have argued that some of the stories he told investors shows he must be delusional. The magistrate said an alternate explanation is that it was “a pack of lies and he is refusing to admit it no matter the evidence or the efforts of his own attorneys.”

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