SARANAC LAKE - A Saranac Lake native facing federal fraud charges wants his upcoming trial moved to California, where he is recovering from serious injuries he suffered in an explosion.
William Stehl, 66, and his business partner Richard Rossignol, 60, were arrested in late March 2010 in the Los Angeles area. They were charged with a decade-long fraud scheme that allegedly bilked investors out of more than $6 million by convincing them to invest in companies Stehl was affiliated with that were purportedly developing an alternative energy source.
Two of those companies, Rainbow Technologies and BGX Technologies, were formed in New York and operated out of the town of Harrietstown's airport business park when Stehl lived in Saranac Lake from 2000 to 2005. In 2005 he moved to California.
Stehl and Rossignol were indicted in March 2010 by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Stehl was also charged with making false statements to a federal agent and income tax evasion.
The two men were scheduled to stand trial in Binghamton in September of last year. But Stehl, who's been free on $100,000 bond, and a potential witness in the trial named Timothy B. Larson suffered gruesome injuries when a tank containing volatile hydrogen exploded at the alternative fuel business they were working at in Sylmar, Calif., on Aug. 9, 2011. The force of the blast ripped the roof off the 7,400-square-foot building and the two men were thrown into an alley, according to a report from the Daily News of Los Angeles.
A similar blast occurred at another Stehl-connected company in Simi Valley, Calif., in June 2010, killing Larson's brother, Tyson Larson. Stehl walked away from that explosion with only minor injuries, but that wasn't the case with last year's blast in Sylmar.
Court documents filed in November by Stehl's attorney, James Long of Albany, in support of the motion to move the trial to California list Stehl's extensive injuries: His left arm was severed below his elbow, and he suffered burns to 60 percent of his torso; he had two broken legs, a crushing injury to his left foot and shrapnel injuries to his head, face and torso.
Stehl was in a medically induced coma for four weeks and, as of early November, was still being treated in the burn unit of a Los Angeles hospital. Once his treatment there was completed, Long said his client would be moved to a rehabilitation center for another three to six months, followed by months of outpatient physical rehabilitation.
"In total, Mr. Stehl's medical condition will prevent him from participating in his trial for the next 12 to 18 months no matter where the venue lies," Long wrote. "In view of the defendant's new health considerations and his inability to be present and prepared for trial, the defendant respectfully asks this court to reconsider in the interest of justice, the venue change as a result of these extraordinary changes in circumstances."
Long also said it would be an "extreme hardship" for Timothy Larson, who had both his right arm and right leg severed, to have to fly across the country to testify at the trial.
But federal prosecutors want the case to stay in New York. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Dooley, in a memo opposing the venue change that was filed this week, said the defendants have not given the court anything to back up the claim that Stehl can't travel to Binghamton to stand trial once he's released from the inpatient rehab facility.
"Up to this point, the defense has provided no information to the court from physicians or other health care professionals involved in his treatment," Dooley wrote. "Mr. Stehl can authorize a waiver to enable the court to view his medical records. ... To date, that has not been done."
Dooley's response didn't address Larson's medical condition because his testimony would only be needed for a day or so, and because Long "provided no medical documentation indicating that he could not appear as a witness in this case in Binghamton."
The government is asking that the trial be scheduled in September of this year. It's expected to last eight to 10 weeks.
U.S. District Judge Thomas McAvoy, who is handling the case, has yet to rule on the motion for a change in venue.