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Ex-broadcaster's fraud trial opens // Prosecutor calls investment strategy a scam

TAMPA - A former Clearwater radio commentator whose broadcasts and newsletters touted precious-metals investment strategies went on trial in federal court Monday, charged with fleecing at least 30 people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Robert W. Snyder, 73, of 120 Coral Drive in Safety Harbor, originally pleaded guilty to 19 counts of fraud charged in a March 1989 indictment. In November, a federal judge rejected the plea after Snyder wrote a letter in which he seemed to repudiate his guilt.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Hyman told jurors Monday that Snyder "preyed on people's vulnerabilities, patriotism and religion" in getting them to send as much as $31,000 to him.

While some people received a few investment coins, most got nothing back from Snyder, Hyman said. When they inquired, she said, "Mr. Snyder was filled with persuasive and articulate excuses," such as "I'm sorry, please, trust me, I'm a Christian."

Prosecutors charge that Snyder used about $50,000 of the money he took in to pay court-ordered restitution of $500,000 in a 1984 Pinellas circuit court conviction for defrauding 50 people in a similar precious metals scheme.

But as much as $250,000 collected by Snyder has disappeared, Hyman said.

The government plans to call about 30 alleged victims from around the country as witnesses in Snyder's trial, which is expected to last about two weeks.

Donald Hitchner, a retired heating and air-conditioning worker from New Mexico, testified Monday that he first heard Snyder on a local radio talk show, was impressed with his ideas about economics and security, and ordered Snyder's newsletter.

Hitchner, who later invested $10,000 with Snyder, said Snyder's self-professed Christianity and quotes from the Scriptures helped persuade Hitchner to send money to Florida rather than make the same investments in New Mexico.

"It certainly gave me a lot of confidence in Bob Snyder," Hitchner said.

Snyder had a one-hour talk show on WWQT-AM in Clearwater that was carried on Christian stations around the country.