WICHITA — As the defense began presenting its case today in the securities fraud trial of Wild West World founder Thomas Etheredge, it tried to paint a different picture of Etheredge's previous business ventures and personal tax liability.
Margaret VanSkiver, an accountant, said she prepared an amended tax return for Thomas and Cheryl Etheredge that showed they were actually owed a federal refund of $226,000 for 2005. Prosecutors had said the Etheredges owed $227,000 in federal taxes for that year, which they never paid.
The difference, VanSkiver testified, is that she applied a carryback loss for 2005, which resulted in the refund.
Accountant Gary Hamilton, who did contract work for Thomas Etheredge and later served as chief financial officer for the theme park, also testified that Etheredge's Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper made money each year with the exception of its partial year of existence in 1999.
Under cross-examination, Hamilton also said Etheredge later moved money back and forth from the Prairie Rose and Wild West World in an attempt to prop up both entities.
Also testifying was George Dueck, who is from the Central American country of Belize. He and Etheredge were partners in an aloe vera plantation in 1985. The jury was shown numerous pictures of the operation.
Prosecutors, who rested their case Wednesday, maintained that Etheredge either misrepresented facts about his past or omitted information when he solicited investors for the theme park.
Investors represented in the nine counts of securities fraud gave Etheredge a total of $735,000 to help him complete the theme park, according to testimony and evidence presented by the state.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Steve Joseph said 98 percent of the state's case is tied to information from a book, "Real Men, Real Faith," and testimony from Etheredge's ex-wife, Debbie Taylor.
Joseph told the jury that Etheredge's chapter in the book wasn't meant to completely detail his life and that the facts as Taylor remembered them from 20 years earlier "are just wrong."
Joseph also said that Etheredge will testify in his own defense this week.
Judge Ben Burgess ruled this afternoon that a KAKE series about Etheredge and Wild West World in September 2005 could be admitted as evidence. The state had objected to the series being admitted. The series had detailed some of Etheredge's problems.