CINCINNATI — After 5.5 hours of deliberation, the jury in the case of West Chester Twp. Trustee George Lang found him not guilty.
At the announcement just before noon today, relief was apparent on Lang’s face. He turned to his wife Debbie, who blew him a kiss.
Both were emotional as they left the court room.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Lang said. “The last eight weeks have been pure hell.”
But through that, he said, he has had some epiphanies, namely about who his true friends are. “You really learn who the rocks are — the people who will stand by me.”
Through text messages, e-mails and daily phone calls, Lang said he was being encouraged. But it was his wife, he said, who encouraged him the most as she sat first outside the courtroom and during the defense inside it.
“Life is just so much better with Debbie Lang in it,” he said.
Defense Attorney Ralph Kohnen said the jury has “redeemed” Lang.
“I think the jury did the right thing and we’re grateful,” he said. “I don’t think the justice department did the right thing in charging this case. Justice was served,” he said.
If convicted, Lang would have faced a sentence five years in prison.
The trial began Jan. 31, and closing statements were delivered Tuesday afternoon. The jury deliberated for a couple of hours Tuesday and again this morning before announcing its verdict just before noon.
It was tasked with determining whether Lang lied under oath in federal court in 2009 during the trial of Orlando Carter, owner of the now defunct fiber optics company, Dynus, that took out loans in Butler County’s name without county approval.
For Lang to be convicted, the jury had to agree on at least one of eight lies he was accused of telling, namely that he did not know his business partner Jim Smith was a full-time Dynus employee when Lang paid him $100,000 in “kickbacks.”
Judge Sandra Beckwith told the jury before closing arguments Tuesday the prosecution must prove Lang knew he was giving false testimony that had the potential to influence the jury in that case. They also must prove he “deliberately closed his eyes to what otherwise would have been obvious to him,” Beckwith said.
During the closing, Lang’s defense attorney, Ralph Kohnen, called the government “vindictive” as he implored jurors to see the story from his client’s perspective during closing arguments Tuesday in U.S. District Court.
“The prosecution in this case is going after George Lang because of his association with the Dynus debacle,” Kohnen said. “They think he was too close not to be involved.”
But, the evidence presented, he said, “was nothing but a bunch of junk.”
The prosecution, Kohnen said, has tried to “smear” Lang and “poison the jury against him.”
“They accused an innocent man,” he said. “Their frustration in failing to find the facts as they expected them to be in a broader investigation has resulted in this ugliness. ... His motives were simple. His motives were true. His motives were honest, and they turned out to be courageous.”
Assistant U.S. Prosecutor Jennifer Barry said the defense “smacks of desperation; smacks of spin.” Lang, she said, tried to save face by distancing himself from Smith.
He had aspirations for higher office. It’s hard to go very far if the word ‘kickback’ is associated with you,” she said, pointing out that at no point in Lang’s testimony did he stop to question the words “employee” or “kickback.”