Utah County businessman pleads not guilty to fraud charges

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah County businessman accused of setting up a $100 million Ponzi scheme has been formally charged. Rick Koerber pleaded not guilty in federal court Friday morning. He's accused of mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion.

On his way into federal court for his initial court appearance, Rick Koerber was uncharacteristically quiet. When asked for a comment, he replied, "Not at this point."

Since his federal indictment two weeks ago, Koerber, once a familiar face on billboards calling himself the "Free Capitalist," has not been camera shy. He agreed to on-camera interviews and held a press conference.

Koerber has not discussed the specific charges, other than to say he's a victim of the downturn in the housing market -- something his attorney repeated Friday.

In court, Koerber pleaded "not guilty" to mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion charges. He surrendered his passport, agreed to turn in his firearms, to attempt to get a job, to not leave the state without court permission and make no contact with victims or potential witnesses.

Federal prosecutors contend Koerber duped investors in a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme. "Mr. Koerber operated founders capital and other related entities as a Ponzi scheme to convince earlier investors their funds were earning money and to convince potential investors that the program was working and earning money," U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman said in May.

Koerber's attorney hinted at a possible defense Friday. "This is going to be case where we have to look at what people were told and what was actually done. We think at the end of the day, people that engage in financial activities often have unreasonable expectations," Jerry Mooney said.

The case has been assigned to Judge Ted Stewart. If convicted, Koerber faces up to 45 years in federal prison. The judge set his next court date for August.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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