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Depriest says accuser was never a partner


Kristin Mamrack



The trial brought against Donald DePriest by former associate Oliver Phillips is expected to conclude today. 


A former senior partner with T.E. Lott & Co. who also served as DePriest''s accountant for nearly 30 years, Phillips is suing DePriest for $10 million. 


Phillips claimed he and Chuck Cooper, a former WCBI-TV station manager, who ran a Starkville-based radio station owned by DePriest, helped DePriest create Charisma Communications, a company based on cellular technology. 


But DePriest says otherwise. 


"It plainly was not Oliver, Chuck and Don doing this," DePriest Thursday said of the formation of Charisma Communications. "It was a corporation." 


At the center of the trial is a 1984 document Phillips claims entitles him to 10 percent of anything DePriest received from the operations of or sale of Charisma, which was sold, in 1986, to McCaw Cellular for $85 million; DePriest received about $31 million from the sale. 


Phillips worked closely with DePriest in 1982 to secure markets in the cellular communications industry. 


DePriest has said the document in question is vague and, although his signature is on it, he had no knowledge of it until 1996, when confronted with it by Phillips. 


Phillips Tuesday testified DePriest paid him about $1 million in 1986, but Phillips again presented DePriest with the 1984 document in April 1996, after a lawsuit over the sale of Charisma to McCaw Cellular was settled for $100 million, $84 million of which was distributed to Charisma stockholders. 


Phillips earlier said DePriest paid him $5 million in April 1996 and issued a promissory note for another $5 million to be paid by Dec. 31, 1996. 


DePriest Thursday testified the note referred to the $5 million he paid Phillips in April 1996, not to an additional $5 million; additionally, he said he thought the $5 million he paid was to settle all claims. 


"This was to have been an alternative transaction," he said of the promissory note. "I ended up giving him a $5 million check for a release (from other financial obligations)." 


Also Thursday, Dave Richards, an attorney with Atlanta, Ga.-based The Richards Law Firm, testified. 


Richards, who spent 10 years with the Federal Communications Commission, previously worked on application hearings for Charisma. 


Richards testified the state of Charisma at the time of the sale to McCaw was "a constant outflow of cash, with essentially no inflow of cash," and said Phillips owned no stock in the company and no filings showed "Phillips as having ownership." 


Upon cross-examination by Phillips attorneys, it was revealed Richards is DePriest''s brother-in-law. 


Mike Hawkins, the president of T.E. Lott, testified he was not aware of Phillips being a member of any joint venture with DePriest or having ownership in any of DePriest''s companies. 


However, on cross-examination, he agreed several Lott partners, including himself, invested in DePriest''s companies. 


It was "common practice" for partners to "have outside business with clients," he said. 


The trial continued today with testimony from Stephanie Smith, a litigation consultant who was asked to evaluate Phillips'' claims regarding promissory notes and "entitlements that may have flown from the 1984 agreement." 


The trial was expected to draw to a close by midday.




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