By Carlotta Grandstaff
James Bryant took the witness stand Thursday morning and testified for his co-pastor and co-defendant Harris Himes. He told a horrific tale of violence, which, though fascinating to hear, seemingly had no relevance to the comparatively mundane charges of theft and securities fraud that both men face.
Bryant’s tale is this: He first met Himes at the Calvary Chapel School of Ministry in California when both were students there from 1992-1994. Bryant lived in Himes’s house. Bryant left California to establish a church in Durango, Colo. In Durango, Bryant became acquainted with a boy who had been in juvenile detention. When the boy was released from detention Bryant hooked him up with his church’s youth minister, and the boy went to live with him. The boy ultimately “murdered everyone in the house” and Bryant found the bodies. At about the same time, Bryant’s wife left him for a parishioner at their church. Deeply shaken, Bryant left Colorado and went to Mexico. It was there that he set up a manufacturing plant called Duratherm Building Systems, where he produces structural insulated panels, and which is at the heart of the case against Himes.
This is where Geoffrey Serata comes in, though the stories told on the witness stand by both Bryant and Serata differ considerably.
Serata is Himes’s alleged victim in a business venture that the state claims swindled Serata of $150,000 of his $425,000 inheritance. The state claims that neither Himes nor Bryant were registered with the state to sell shares in DBS, and has charged each man with six felony counts of theft and securities fraud.
Bryant testified that DBS was a growing concern. He’d built beach houses, a walk-in cheese cooler, a clinic for an orphanage, roofs and panels for churches, and small buildings for the U.S. Navy. This is contrary to Serata’s testimony that DBS was nothing more than an empty shell of a building when he saw it, with no manufacturing taking place.
Bryant’s timing in setting up DBS in Mexico was fortuitous in that the Mexican government had changed building codes to require builders to use green products. DBS was one of the few manufacturing plants in Mexico to become certified as a green manufacturing plant. The company’s future looked rosy: 1.4 million homes are built in Mexico annually. Bryant planned to capture between 1% and 2% of the market. He was earning a profit of $20 per panel at the time. By 2010, said Bryant, sales had increased by 700%. A year later, the state of Montana filed the criminal charges, word got out in the business community and sales dropped to almost nothing.
Serata, meanwhile, had made his investment in the business. Contrary to Serata’s claims that he asked repeatedly for a written contract and was continually put off by both Bryant and Himes, Bryant said he had to press a written contract – a subscription agreement – on Serata to memorialize the investment, even though Serata was uninterested in receiving an agreement.
Both men testified that Serata traveled to Mexico with Bryant, but while Serata said he was abandoned there while Bryant returned north to conduct business and had to find his own way back to the U.S., Bryant said Serata stayed voluntarily in Mexico, both to keep an eye on business and because the Mexican sun was good for his hip pain.
When Himes asked if Bryant intended to return Serata’s investment, he said he would – when he has the money to return. Presently, he has 200,000 pesos in the bank, or $17,000. A business in Tijuana is interested in buying DBS, but Bryant said he might franchise it rather than sell it.
As for Himes’s instructions to Serata to wire the $150,000 to a Chicago bank and into an account held there in the name of Monarch Beach Properties, rather than into DBS directly, Bryant said he did not open an account in the name of DBS until after Serata wired his investment.
Himes has put forth four defense arguments: In the case file, he states that the state investigator in his case, Lynne Egan, Deputy Securities Director of the state auditor’s office, has an anti-Christian bias and that she expressed her hatred of conservative Christians of which Himes is one; in court testimony, Himes tried to prove that Serata used Himes’s bank accounts as a convenient place to hide his investment from the Bureau of Veteran Affairs; the charges were trumped up by gay rights activists and pro-abortion activists working for state auditor Monica Lindeen; and that, in Thursday’s testimony, Bryant bore much of the responsibility for striking the business deal with Serata in a legitimate, up-and-coming business with good future prospects.
The trial came to a halt at about 2 p.m. when Himes’s remaining witnesses were unavailable to testify. Judge Loren Tucker, who has appeared clearly exasperated by Himes at various points in the trial, asked Himes what he proposed to do with the jury’s time with no witnesses to testify. Himes made several trips out of the courtroom, cell phone in hand, to track down his witnesses. Tucker, meanwhile, opted to use the empty time by writing jury instructions with both prosecution and defense attorneys.
Testimony continues Friday.