Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Palm Beach Social Diary

Free-wheeling polo mogul John Goodman and his legal guru Roy Black make their daily quick-step past the cameras into the Palm Beach County Courthouse where the Houston-Wellington tycoon faces the possibility of 30 years in the big house if convicted of DUI Manslaughter/Vehicular homicide/Failure to render aid.
Goodman on Trial: Loaded and Reckless or Footloose Injured Victim?
By Augustus Mayhew

The increasingly surreal case of the Texas-rich founder of Wellington’s International Polo Club Palm Beach reviled for allegedly killing 23-year-old Scott Wilson and leaving him to die in a drainage canal but commended by some for having the financial cunning to adopt his 42-year girlfriend as his daughter took another plot twist over the weekend when ABC News and several unconfirmed reports announced the civil case had settled for an undisclosed so-many-millions.

With John Goodman’s untouchable several-hundred-million fortune still believed-to-be relatively intact, a jury panel seated, and a plea deal considered a long shot, Tuesday’s opening statements mapped out the prosecution’s case, relying predominately on law-enforcement officials, and the defense’s more elaborate complex scenario portraying John Goodman as a victim of circumstances and misunderstood good intentions. There might not have been a dense fog on the night of the accident, but after hearing a flurry of inconsistent statements “I don’t remember-I don’t know” responses form the first several witnesses, I sensed someone might have turned on a fog machine as memories blurred clouding key elements of Tuesday’s testimony. Yes, you knew it was coming — Goodman was a casualty, the Bentley did it, and he hit his head.
Defendant John Goodman outside Judge Jeffrey Colbath’s 11th-floor court room.
Whether ensconced within his Texas or Florida polocratic feifdoms, Mr. Goodman’s enigmatic personae is not accustomed to scrutiny from outsiders and the outside world. That is, until a February night two years ago when the aftermath from a deadly crash cast an unwelcome spotlight on the 48-year-old high roller. For me, the Wellington case has developed undertones of the 1997 Warrenton polo murder when billionaire munitions heiress Susan Cummings was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and served less than 60 days in jail after she shot and killed her boyfriend Argentine polo player Roberto Villegas in the kitchen at her historic Ashland Farm mansion.

In a world accustomed to excess, privilege, and looking the other way, polo insiders are not surprisingly tight-lipped when one of their own becomes villainized, quick to embrace Goodman’s charitable contributions and champion his advancement and promotion of the polo lifestyle and culture. With Goodman’s inner circle including polo enthusiast-television personality John Walsh, America’s #1 crime fighter, and fellow Texan and actor Tommy Lee Jones, there are those who believe John Goodman’s case is not open-and-shut and he will not spend a day in jail.
Case No. 10-037896, PBC Sheriff’s Investigation, Interview. During this part of her interview with the sheriff’s investigator, Goodman’s girlfriend-now-daughter Heather Colby on how/why Goodman would first call her in Atlanta to call Carlos Pravaz, his “horse manager” who lives on his property less than a mile down the road, rather than him call Carlos directly. Greg refers to Goodman’s brother Greg Goodman, sometimes mentioned as the person who would oversee his brother’s various enterprises should he be sent to prison. Greg Goodman and family members were seated along the entire second row during Tuesday’s proceedings.
John Goodman’s brother Greg Goodman and his son Hutton Goodman, also a polo player, seen leaving court after Tuesday afternoon’s session.
Following the 2010 accident, Greg Goodman, pictured above, and his sons attended a dinner with John Goodman at The Palm Restaurant in Miami, along with Marc Ganzi and Sugar Erskine, where Kris Kampsen supposedly learned for the first time that Goodman had spent time at his “man cave” following the crash.
The context:

According to the prosecution, around 1 a.m. on February 12 2010, after a night of charitable drinking at the White Horse Tavern followed by drinks at the nearby Players Club, John Goodman ran a stop sign crashing his 5,500-pound Bentley convertible into a Hyundai driven by Scott Wilson who drowned from the high-speed collision when his car flipped upside down into a drainage canal. After the crash, Goodman fled the scene. He walked more than 300-yards to polo player Kris Kampsen’s stable-office, having earlier been at two Wellington hotspots with Kampsen and friends. Then, he went to a nearby trailer and awakened Lisa Pembleton, using her cell phone to first call his girlfriend in Atlanta before calling 911. Three hours post-crash, Goodman's blood-alcohol level measured more than twice the legal limit.
Case No. 10-037896, PBC Sheriff’s Investigation, Interview. At 1:30 a.m., Goodman awakened horse trainer Lisa Pembleton and asked to use her telephone. Pembleton gave him her phone; Goodman sits on the couch and calls his girlfriend in Atlanta. ”I fucked up,” he tells her, according to sheriff’s interview. Then, according to the prosecutor, Goodman told her to have Carlos call him at Pembleton’s phone. He asks Pembleton whether he should turn himself in or call a lawyer as she encourages him to call 911. At 1:56 a.m. Goodman called 911. “I’m in big trouble, huh?” he told the 911 operator.
Case No. 10-037896, PBC Sheriff’s Investigation, Interview. John Goodman offered cash to Lisa Pembleton.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
8:30 am

The jury:
Five men and one woman with two women alternates, including an electrician, a construction manager, two retired teachers, and a South Florida Water Management District employee.

The prosecution:
During a 30- minute opening statement, lead prosecutor Ellen Roberts, chief of the traffic homicide unit, outlined the state’s case. She covered the who-drank-what when and where events surrounding the Polo for Pedro celebrity bartending event at the White Horse Tavern and the Players Club, before moving on to the Stop sign and the Kampsen “man cave,” before promising “evidence beyond a reasonable doubt,” and suggesting “Had Lisa Pembleton not been there, he might have never called 911.”

The defense:
Roy Black’s 45-minute opening began with “Imagine if you will standing on the corner of Lake Worth Road and 120th Avenue South at approx. 12:45 am, when you see a car surge forward … Following are paraphrased excerpts from Black’s explanation of what happened to John Goodman:

“You see him trying to control this enormously powerful car, 650HP, turbo-charged … the throttles are not working properly … for some reason, the throttle will not close … fuel keeps pumping into this monster of an engine … Goodman is trying to control the vehicle … it shoots out into the intersection … due to power vectors, and physics, a malfunction of the computer … its dark, there is no illumination … Mr. Goodman’s forehead strikes the driver’s side window, he is knocked unconscious for a period of time ... some 9,000 pounds of force have taken people to places they have no control over … he awakens, having suffered a Grade 3 concussion, confused, disoriented … by 11:04 that evening his cell phone battery was dying and not working … he decides to go for help... so confused he goes in the wrong direction ,though lived there for 20 years … he is suffering pain from a wrist injury, a fractured sternum, a contusion on his forehead, bad back pain is radiating into his legs … the only relief he finds is from a bottle of alcohol he find’s at Kampsen’s man cave ...

“John Goodman was not intoxicated, not impaired, and not drunk ... His car was defective … the throttles were operating incorrectly… it was dark, he did not abandon, he didn’t know there was anyone in the canal … he did the best he could under the circumstances … he could not see ... as a child he loved horses … moved to Wellington 20 years ago because of his love of horses … he was not intoxicated … he did not smell of alcohol … his car was defective … a very sophisticated car … everything done by computers … everything shuts down … default codes ... Bentley engineers created these computers … we can determine the throttles not working properly, not opening and closing properly, far worse than imaginable ... when you let go of the brake, the car surges forward … John Goodman froze, panicked, there was nothing he could do and this crash occurred ... car was redirected into the canal … it was pitch black.. he doesn’t see anything…he left not knowing what had happened… he walks in the wrong direction … he’s hurting … swigs from a bottle…is this logical, is this common sense ... just stop the pain for a minute … so he could sit and think ...” Was Mr. Goodman in pain? 4 days after the accident he had surgery on his wrist and forearm … taking epidural shots to stop the pain … underwent back surgery. on his back, fuse the discs … to try and stop the pain, also suffered a concussion … shattered window on driver’s side, expert testify thrown impacted his forehead, contusion and laceration on left side … no doubt he suffered a head injury... brain bounce back and forth causes the disorientation …

“John Goodman is trying to piece together what happened to him … He asks 'Where am I?' five times … John Goodman was not drunk, not impaired, not intoxicated … it was just what it was, a tragic accident …”


The first five witnesses, polo player Kris Kampsen, bartender Cathleen Lewter, Players Club manager Matthew Barger, valet parker Facundo Paredes, and Goodman’s horse manager Carlos Pravaz Leslie, didn’t appear to think Goodman was intoxicated the night of the accident.
Defense jury consultant Josh Dubin and celebrated lawyer Roy Black leave the courtroom after Tuesday afternoon’s session.
The subtext:
The county’s State Attorney Michael McAuliffe recently resigned to work for Palm Beach billionaire William Koch’s Oxbow Corporation, leaving the governor to appoint Peter Antonacci the new prosecutor who would negotiate any possible plea deal.  Described to prospective jurors by the prosecution as the “elephant in the room,” veteran trial savant Roy Black is in the midst of selling tickets for his “Black’s Annual Gala” with Queen Latifah and Tony Bennett scheduled for March 24 at the Fontainebleau Hotel to benefit his Consequences Foundation.  Goodman jury consultant Josh Dubin arrived in Florida after being the defense’s jury expert in the Rutgers cyber-bullying case.  Guy Fronstin, a member of Goodman’s legal defense team, is a former criminal prosecutor for the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office.
According to Roy Black’s 100-page motion for a change of venue posted on his web site: ”Since the accident, Mr. Goodman has been the target of an unrelenting media blitzkrieg led by the editorial staff of the Palm Beach Post, aided by the civil litigation attorney representing Mr. Wilson's family and Palm Beach County police and prosecutors.”
An heir to his late father’s $1 billion+ air-conditioning fortune, Mr. Goodman was recently divorced from Carroll Reckling Goodman, a great-grand of Frank Sterling, a founder of Humble-Mobil Oil and brother of former Texas Governor Ross Sterling. Having named his Isla Carroll polo team for his now ex-wife and having hired some of the world’s best players, Goodman’s team won the 1997 and 2004 US Open.
When a Houston newspaper ran an unflattering feature on John Goodman a decade ago, a family member wrote a letter describing him as “… a beautiful sportsman and role model for all.” A prominent Texan political figures defended Goodman as “ … nothing if not unfailingly kind, overwhelmingly decent and almost painfully shy…”
A Night to Remember
12 February 2010
The Players Club, reportedly owned by Wall Street financier and Bridgehampton Polo principal Neil Hirsch, settled a civil suit with the victim’s family for an undisclosed amount, although unconfirmed sources have said it could have been as high as $6 million.
Cathleen Lewter was a Player’s Club bartender who served Goodman drinks the night of the crash. During her testimony, the 11-year veteran bartender said she filed an Errata to her civil deposition because she had mispoke. Although she repeatedly said that she poured two-ounce shots,she was now testifying they were actually only one-ounce.
Stacey Shore was with John Goodman at the Players Club the night of the “end of the world” accident. Because Shore will be out of the country, her testimony will be a video presentation.
According to court documents, after leaving the Players Club, Goodman drove past his own residence and flew through this STOP sign where he collided with Scott Wilson’s car, pushing it into the drainage canal located behind the Wellington sign on the south side of Lake Worth Road. Then, he apparently walked more than 1,000-ft down the gravel road to Kris Kampsen’s polo barn. Wellington is a small-small world at 1 a.m. in the morning. The same person Goodman was with at the White Horse Tavern, several hours later he coincidentally takes shelter at that same person’s barn while lawyer Roy Black claims Goodman was dazed and was walking in the wrong direction.
“Oh my God, there’s a car in the canal. You’d better send fire-rescue,” a passer-by said to a 911 operator. Two years later, Scott Wilson’s friends maintain this memorial for him. Every several months, the Friends of Scott Wilson and family members gather and keep his memory alive by clearing debris and litter from both sides of Lake Worth Road.
John Goodman’s boot prints left a trail from the crash scene, a 7- minute walk down 120th Avenue, according to the sheriff’s investigator, to this 10-acre polo field-stable barn complex owned by the Tampa-based Kampsen Family Limited Partnership. Although Goodman had only been to Kampsen’s polo field once before the night of the accident, according to sheriff’s statements, John Goodman spent nearly an hour in an upstairs “man cave” while a groom and his wife were sleeping in a ground-floor apartment at the south end of the complex unaware of Goodman’s presence.
During the sheriff’s investigation interview, excerpted above, Mr. Kampsen was accompanied by his lawyer, noted criminal defense attorney David Roth.
According to the sheriff’s investigation, while Goodman spent time at the upstairs Kampsen office-lounge, Scott Wilson died, still strapped in the driver’s seat upside-down in a nearby drainage canal.
Adjacent to the west end of Kampsen’s polo field, actor Tommy Lee Jones maintains an elaborate polo complex.
John Goodman photographed in February 2009 at his Wellington polo club. John Goodman photographed in court. Photo Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post.
Scott Wilson’s father William Wilson arrives for the first day of testimony. Lili Wilson in court during jury selection. Photo Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post.
Scott Patrick Wilson. Family photograph. “My son was important. He was the world to me,” his mother Lili Wilson told the Palm Beach Post.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.
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