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NEW YORK — Guilty, guilty and guilty again: 16 times in total.
This story first appeared in the April 26, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Jurors in the Christopher Finazzo criminal trial took less than four-and-a-half hours to reach a verdict of guilty on all 16 counts.
Finazzo, the former chief merchandising officer at Aéropostale Inc., was charged with 14 counts of mail fraud, one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy. All the counts, as noted in his indictment, are in connection with an alleged multimillion dollar kickback scheme that involved one of the retailer’s key vendors, South Bay Apparel.
Finazzo never took the stand, which is his right. He is presumed innocent of all charges, and it was up to U.S. government prosecutors to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The maximum term of imprisonment for each count of mail and wire fraud is 20 years, and five years for the conspiracy charge. U.S. District Court Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf will determine what the penalties will be. Finazzo’s forfeiture trial starts on Monday and is expected to last a week. The government is seeking more than $21 million, two investment accounts and four pieces of property from Finazzo. Bail was continued.
Mauskopf gave her final instructions Thursday morning before sending the case to the 12-member jury panel to begin deliberations shortly before noon. Word filtered through the courthouse shortly after 4 p.m. that a verdict had already been reached on each count of the indictment.
U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch said, “We have all heard the saying, ‘Money does not buy happiness,’ and today’s verdict is case in point for that maxim. Christopher Finazzo had a great job that paid him millions of dollars, but this honest living was apparently not enough to satisfy his greed. As the evidence at trial showed, he schemed to steal from Aéropostale and to receive more than $25 million in illegal kickbacks from a supplier.”
She also said, as the Finazzo verdict shows, “We will vigorously pursue corporate fraudsters who double deal to enrich themselves and bring them to justice.”
The three-week criminal trial began April 8. Prosecutors took two weeks to present their case, which included cross-examination of their witnesses by defense counsel. The defense needed just a day-and-a half to present its case.
The key components in the government’s case are that Finazzo deprived the retailer of money that could have gone elsewhere and that he interfered with Aéropostale’s ability to decide how to control their own assets, such as whether to place orders with South Bay or somewhere else.
Edward Slezak, the general counsel of Aéropostale Inc., was in court Wednesday morning, and lawyers almost fought over his right to attend closing arguments. He is the only member of the executive team who was also present at the exit interview in which Finazzo was fired. That interview was taped. The recording, which included Finazzo’s statements, was played for jurors. Both Julian Geiger, chief executive officer at the time, and Michael Cunningham, chief financial officer and president, have since retired from the teen retailer. Like Geiger and Cunningham, Slezak also was a government witness in the case. Lawyers for Finazzo objected to his presence, even though both sides had already rested. Before government prosecutors could state why he should be able to stay in the courtroom, Slezak made the decision easy, stating, “I’ll leave. I don’t want to be the subject of this.”
Finazzo and his friend and now coconspirator, Douglas Dey, were both indicted in June 2010. Dey owned South Bay, and 50 percent of the profits South Bay received from orders from Aéropostale were split between Dey and a company called C & D Retail Consultants Inc., a firm Finazzo set up. According to the government, the retailer paid more than $350 million for orders with South Bay, while Finazzo received $25 million for his share of the profits.
Dey in September pled guilty to a conspiracy charge, which carries a penalty of five years imprisonment and the forfeiture of $7.5 million. He too awaits sentencing.