Originally created 12/18/97

Jury hears evidence in accountant's case



A Richmond County Superior Court jury began hearing evidence Wednesday in the case of a former accountant who accuses another of stealing trade secrets -- his list of clients.

Roger Wahl filed the 1993 civil lawsuit against David Crews, Terry Liebowitz, Miriam Powell, Becky Grubb and Christina Martin. "The bottom line, to put it plain and simple, Mr. Wahl says ... they stole from him," said Mr. Wahl's attorney Richard Dunstan in his opening statement.

Mr. Wahl started his own accounting firm in 1980, and Mr. Crews worked for him as an accountant until March 1993, Mr. Dunstan said. That year, Mr. Wahl was diagnosed with a mental illness and became the target of a federal grand jury investigation, Mr. Dunstan said.

By fall, Mr. Wahl negotiated with Mr. Crews to sell him the accounting business, but the deal fell through and Mr. Wahl sold out to Serotta Maddocks Evans & Co., Mr. Dunstan said. The day before the new owners were to take over, Mr. Crews and the other four other employees took Mr. Wahl's customer list and used his office supplies to solicit the clients' business, Mr. Dunstan said.

Mr. Wahl is alleging he lost $200,000 a year in payments he should have received.

But Mr. Crews' attorney, N. Kenneth Daniel told the jury in his opening statement that clients weren't stolen but left Mr. Wahl's firm in droves following the federal grand jury investigation of possible tax evasion. Mr. Wahl also kept $7,600 in advance fees paid by clients for work Mr. Crews later did, and Mr. Wahl failed to compensate his former employees for more than $7,000 in compensatory time, Mr. Daniel said.

In 1993, Mr. Crews and the other four employees decided to start their own accounting firm, Mr. Daniel said. They decided their best option was to leave the firm and start their own business. "It's the same exact thing he did," Mr. Daniel said.