I'm a 'terrible' money manager, Porter testifies during murder trial

Ex-pastor says he was in over his head on museum

07/24/2008 4:59 AM

07/24/2008 7:54 AM

Former pastor Howard "Doug" Porter spent a second day in the witness stand in Stanislaus County Superior Court on Wednesday, answering a wide range of questions about his friendship with rancher Frank Craig and an agricultural museum that never came to pass.

When he was questioned by his attorney, Porter described himself as a "terrible" money manager who got in over his head after he agreed to help Craig turn more than $2 million inherited from a brother into a showcase for farm equipment Craig had collected over decades.

Authorities contend that Porter misappropriated $1.1 million intended for the museum, and a forensic accountant traced $820,000 of Craig's money to personal purchases made by Porter and members of his family, much of it going to build a four-home complex around a trout pond in La Grange.

Porter said he should have kept better documentation, and he wished that he had not made any loans to members of his family, yet he insisted that he had not misappropriated any money, not even the $167,000 his expert was unable to account for.

"I talked everything over with Mr. Craig," said Porter, who led Hickman Community Church for nearly two decades. "Everything we did was talked over, discussed."

The trial that began May 12 is heading into the home stretch with more testimony from Porter expected today. As he spoke, Porter addressed the crucial point head-on, insisting that he did not murder Craig as prosecutors contend.

"I feel very bad and very sad that some of my actions contributed to his injury and his death," Porter said. "But I loved Frank Craig very much."

Craig was 85 when he died in the second of two truck wrecks involving Porter. He drowned when his truck, driven by Porter, landed in the Ceres main canal April 22, 2004. He had been crippled two years earlier, when Porter's truck slammed into a tree March 5, 2002.

Porter walked away from both wrecks but faces life in prison if convicted.

The former preacher noted that he and Craig had very different temperaments, particularly because Craig did not attend church. He said he nevertheless grew fond of Craig as they traveled together and made plans for the Central Valley Museum of Agriculture.

Porter even recalled a touching moment when Craig gave him the dog tags he wore during World War II, when Craig was stationed in England.

But he could not recall the details behind a host of checks he drew on Craig's accounts, and his tone became argumentative when Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne asked about a series of real estate deals Porter made.

Porter acknowledged using money from Craig to buy a home in which his father lived, which later was sold to one of Porter's brothers. Proceeds from the sale purchased land in Modesto on which his parents now live. And Porter used Craig's money to buy an investment home he sold to a niece.

When asked where the proceeds went, Porter initially said: "Uh, places."

He clarified his comment later, saying he had permission to make those deals because Craig had given him sole discretion over his finances and estate. Although the church was Craig's beneficiary, the parish never received profits Porter made from the deals.

Porter said he was investing Craig's money so the profits could be pumped into the museum, adding that the museum stalled because land near the church on which the museum was to be built did not have enough water pressure.

Porter's attorney presented two documents, which Porter said were drafted and signed by Craig, in which Craig gave the green light for two of the deals. Porter bristled at the suggestion that Craig had been left out of the loop.

Although Craig's financial statements were sent to a post office box controlled by Porter, Porter told the jury that Craig could access the box because he would leave Craig their shared key from time to time.

Porter never explained why Craig's name was left off four bank accounts Porter set up with Craig's money.

And although no one kept a ledger, Porter insisted that he discussed all transactions with Craig.

"Mostly, Mr. Craig kept track of it in his head," Porter said. "He was pretty sharp."

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.

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