NEW YORK — Closing arguments were heard Wednesday in the criminal trial of Christopher Finazzo.
This story first appeared in the April 25, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The former chief merchandising officer of Aéropostale is charged with 16 counts of mail and wire fraud, as well as conspiracy, in an alleged multimillion dollar kickback scheme that involved a vendor — South Bay Apparel — to the retailer.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Nowak opened closing arguments with the statement, “When [Finazzo] said, ‘I never profited from anything from South Bay,’ he was lying.”
Nowak told jurors that even when Finazzo was being fired, “he continued to lie.”
Jurors heard a replay of segments of the exit interview with Finazzo when he was being fired from his job.
Nowak touched upon the key points of the government’s case, noting that, through orders Finazzo placed with South Bay, the retailer paid more than $350 million, while the former chief merchandising officer received $25 million in his share of the South Bay profits.
He also spoke of testimony presented regarding Finazzo’s control over orders for graphic T-shirts, which were placed with South Bay, and why Finazzo was annoyed when questioned by employees at Aéropostale: “When you’re getting the kickbacks, ladies and gentlemen, you don’t want anyone to interfere with the process.”
The prosecutor zeroed in on one key point of the case, which was that Finazzo, in his actions, “denied Aéropostale the ability to make a bigger profit.”
The key elements in the government’s case are that Finazzo deprived the retailer of money that could have gone elsewhere and that he also interfered with Aéropostale’s ability to decide how to control their own assets, such as whether to go with South Bay or somewhere else.
Defense counsel Robert Zito, in his closing statement, told jurors, “Christopher Finazzo must be acquitted of all charges against him for the simple reason he committed no crime.”
He reminded jurors they were deciding a criminal case, noting that a party to a party-related transaction or a breach of an employment agreement is still not a crime. He explained that those are merely “minor violations” for which “there are civil remedies. This is a criminal matter, not civil, and there has been no crime.”
While he reminded jurors that government witnesses spoke about Finazzo controlling the graphic T business, Zito explained “that was his job. He was chief merchant — he was in the business of controlling things.”
Zito said of the government’s case, “All we have here is surmise, speculation and innuendo.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Winston Paes said, “The evidence against the defendant is overwhelming, and it’s overwhelming because of his own statements,” referring to the taped exit interview of Finazzo.
Paes zeroed in on one point — that Finazzo received $20 million in salary and $25 million in kickbacks from South Bay. “He was on both sides of the deal,” Paes said.
The judge in the case will provide the jurors with her final instructions on the law Wednesday, after which the case will be given to the jurors to begin their deliberations.