LARGO — A Pinellas County jury found John Heintz not guilty on Friday of a grand theft charge related to his website developing business.
Heintz, 61, smiled at his lawyer and left the courtroom with his wife, Tanya, after the three-day trial on charges he defrauded William Scott Nelms of $25,000 in an investment deal.
The fraud case was the first of a series of charges against Heintz to go to trial following a St. Petersburg Times report about his business dealings. Doctors, a prominent former bank executive, entrepreneurs as well as close friends and neighbors say Heintz bilked them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"The bottom line is this: He was wrongfully accused and has been vindicated," said Daniel J. Fernandez, Heintz's lawyer. "The verdict took less than an hour and 15 minutes."
As the verdict was delivered, Nelms shook his head and sighed.
"He got away with it, again," Nelms said.
Heintz still faces five other counts of grand theft related to his website business. His next pretrial hearing on those charges is March 25.
Jurors said the state in the Nelms case did not provide enough support for the argument that Heintz defrauded the man, as opposed to the $25,000 investment simply going bad.
"It was a lack of evidence on the state side," said Linda Walker, the jury forewoman. What would have helped, Walker said, was "maybe having some concrete evidence in writing, other than the victim's words."
Throughout the trial, some of the state's witnesses were increasingly limited in their testimony or were not allowed to take the witness stand at all because their testimony could potentially prejudice the jury against Heintz.
For example, Pam Angerhofer, whose daughter once rode horses with Heintz's daughter, was not allowed to testify. She and her husband, a retired railroad worker who drove from Illinois for the trial, lost some $400,000 to Heintz — their entire retirement.
Nelms said the tale about the Angerhofer's loss of their retirement to Heintz is one of the reasons he helped pursue the case against Heintz.
"I really felt for the family," Nelms said. "That was a big loss."
Nelms said Heintz persuaded him to invest $25,000 in his business after touting thousands of website customers and previous successes with investors such as James Mitchell, a former vice president of Northern Trust Bank, who invested $250,000. According to Nelms, Heintz said Mitchell's investment yielded $2.5 million.
During the trial, it was revealed that Heintz had just one server with about 120 websites. And Mitchell lost all of his $250,000.
Ivan Penn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter a www.twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and find the Consumer's Edge on Facebook.