WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Alan Walker (search) kept his company's doors locked all day long, apparently afraid that Andy Rooney or Erin Brockovich or Magic Johnson would try to force their way in, looking for cash.
Walker, 67, is on trial for allegedly failing to pay dozens of celebrities after arranging speaking engagements for them.
Big-name witnesses have drawn crowds to the courtroom, where they saw a grouchy Rooney argue with Judge Colleen McMahon and a smiling Johnson interrupt his testimony to sign a lawyer's basketball.
The fraud and conspiracy case was expected to go to the jury on Wednesday.
In Tuesday's closing arguments, defense lawyer Kerry Lawrence acknowledged "breach of contract with excuses and lies" but said Walker's aim was to save his business, the Program Corp. of America, not to defraud anyone.
Prosecutor Jeff Udell, however, said Walker "resorted to fraud in an attempt to make ends meet."
Testimony has portrayed Walker as a master of evasion. A "60 Minutes" crew couldn't find him. The Bulldog Collection Agency, hired by Hurricane Carter, couldn't find him. He kept the doors locked, and when Ayende Jean-Baptiste, the activist orator, managed to talk his way in, Walker fled from his glass-walled office into a smaller, windowless one so he couldn't be seen from the reception area, an employee said.
Nor was Walker inclined to come to the phone. "I was told to give any kind of excuse" when a creditor called, another employee testified.
Witnesses such as Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreck of the Titanic, said repeated attempts to reach Walker for payment got them voice mail, clueless secretaries or lame excuses.
Poet Nikki Giovanni, known for her elegant phrasing, told the jury: "He's always in the toilet."
Sometimes the calls produced frustrating notes that said Walker was visiting his children or traveling to Australia or undergoing prostate surgery, none of which was true, employees said.
And sometimes, when a check did arrive as partial payment, it bounced, said former astronaut Scott Carpenter.
Most of the witnesses gave up, deciding it was not worthwhile to sue. Johnson swallowed the $30,000 he lost because, he testified, "At the end of the day it would have cost me more" to sue.
Some, like former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, did sue and won judgments that were never enforced because Walker never responded to the lawsuit.
Walker did not testify. But the defense brought out from other witnesses that Walker often expressed confidence that he would eventually get the company back on firm footing; that he lent money to the company and resisted declaring bankruptcy; and that he had a modest lifestyle.
But Udell and fellow prosecutor Daniel Dorsky presented evidence that Walker sometimes promised to deliver a speaker to an event and accepted a deposit but never followed through. They also presented bookkeepers from Walker's company who testified that about $400,000 that had been listed on the ledgers as payable to speakers was wiped out and re-entered as income.
Giovanni testified that she was booked to speak at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, when college representatives called to ask how she was feeling.
"I was surprised because I was feeling fine," she said.
It turned out that Walker had promised Giovanni to the school without asking her and accepted a $3,500 deposit. As the date approached, he allegedly instructed an employee to tell the school Giovanni was ill and might have to cancel.
Defense lawyer Vincent Briccetti said Walker eventually returned the $3,500 deposit.
Johnson, the former basketball great, said after his testimony that he could afford his losses, but "a lot of the other people, they base their living on this."
He might have been talking about Sandra Guzman, author of "The Latina's Bible," who was out $4,000 when she didn't get paid in full for a speech.
She wept on the stand, saying: "I had to borrow money from my mother to pay the rent and feed the kids."