Court hears from second partner in DePriest trial

May 6, 2009

Kristin Mamrack -


Day 2 of the trial between Columbus businessmen Oliver Phillips and Don DePriest included testimony from Phillips -- who is suing DePriest for close to $10 million -- and DePriest, who countersued, claiming Phillips'' case is not valid. 


Additionally, the court was shown a video deposition of Chuck Cooper, a former WCBI-TV station manager who ran a Starkville-based radio station owned by DePriest and, with DePriest and Phillips, created Charisma Communications Corp., a company built on cellular technology. 


At the center of the trial is a 1984 document Phillips -- a former senior partner with T.E. Lott, who also served as DePriest''s accountant for nearly 30 years -- claims entitled him to 10 percent of anything DePriest received from the operations of or sale of Charisma Communications. 


The document was signed by both Phillips and DePriest, but DePriest earlier said he didn''t understand the intentions of the document when he signed it. 


In 1986, DePriest sold Charisma Communications to McCaw Cellular for $85 million, receiving about $31 million. 


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. 


"He didn''t like it, but after I produced the document, he accepted it," Phillips said of DePriest, who, he said, paid him $5 million at the time and issued a promissory note for $5 million to be paid by Dec. 31, 1996. 


DePriest contends the $5 million paid to Phillips was the $5 million in the promissory note; he denies an agreement to pay $10 million. 


Additionally, DePriest maintains Phillips was never a partner in the (Charisma) group, but Phillips testified "We were partners from the inception." 


"Mr. Phillips and I were equal owners," Cooper said in his video deposition, adding Phillips worked "a tremendous amount of hours" for Charisma Communications. 


"We spent hundreds and hundreds of hours," he explained. 


Upon the sale of Charisma, Cooper expected to get 25 percent of money received, he said, noting, in 1987, he only received a check for $500,000 from DePriest, who he said called him on his cell phone, after more than 20 years of no contact, the day before Cooper was deposed. 


"I was really pretty angry," Cooper testified of his feelings upon learning the trio -- he, Phillips and DePriest -- would not "share in the profits" of Charisma, as he had expected. 


"I don''t think Mr. DePriest would have been as successful, as far as an overall venture, if it weren''t for Mr. Phillips," Cooper, who initially sought to receive 50 percent of the profits, said. "My (later) understanding is Mr. DePriest (would) receive 65 percent of the funds left over, I would receive 25 percent and Mr. Phillips would receive 10 percent." 


"Mr. Cooper had no money in the deal, nor did Mr. Phillips," DePriest, who called himself "one of the founders of the (cellular) industry," said Tuesday. "(They had) no money at risk. I had $25 million or more at risk." 


The trial, which was presided over by Lowndes County Chancery Judge Kenneth Burns, resumed this morning with more testimony from DePriest, who recently resigned from the Tennessee Valley Authority after it was revealed the Internal Revenue Service was investigating him for owing $1.1 million in unpaid employment taxes. 


DePriest also is being sued for millions by several others who claim unpaid loans.