The David Lack who showed up to testify this week as star witness in his own defense was an utterly different animal than the politically connected building contractor described throughout the three-week trial by prosecutor Brian Cota, who claims Lack bilked area banks out of $1.2 million and a close friend and Republican Party high roller out of another $300,000.
Instead, the jurors saw a middle-aged man dazed and tased by life’s vicissitudes, shirttails protruding from beneath a rumpled blue sweater, and shoelaces flopping a few feet ahead of his olive-green Keds as he trod from the defense table to the witness box. It was an excruciating performance by someone seemingly eager to please but unable to deliver as key details of his own life kept dancing away. In response to many questions, Lack would squint hard, rack his memory, and exhale loudly before replying “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure.”
Lack testified he grew up in Davenport, Iowa, and attended Catholic school until his parents divorced when he was in 4th grade. After that, Lack and his siblings moved in with an uncle outside of Minneapolis, where he learned construction skills fixing up old family barns. He barely graduated from high school, he recounted — growing visibly upset — because he had such trouble reading he never finished a book in his life. He grew even more distraught, turning away from the jury as he explained he had trouble processing information.
From 1991-1995, Lack worked closely as a political confidante to Michael Huffington, who represented Santa Barbara in Congress one term and then ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate. In 1995, Lack passed the contractor’s test, having failed it, he said, the first two times. In the next 10 years, Lack and his company landed major construction gigs at UCSB and along the Ventura waterfront, not to mention numerous Montecito remodels worth anywhere from $1 million-$12 million. Along the way, he emerged as a presence with the Republican Central Committee, flying to fundraisers in Boca Raton and Las Vegas, hobnobbing with the likes of Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani.
In 2007, Lack applied for lines of credit with Rabobank and the Bank of Santa Barbara worth a combined $1.2 million. In the process, he signed documents claiming as collateral real estate he estimated was worth $1.5 million, but which he, in fact, never owned. On the stand, Lack would deny lying, insisting he told Bank of Santa Barbara cofounder Gregg Bigger that he was “interested” in buying the properties in question. It was Bigger, Lack insisted, who instructed repeatedly, “Put it down. Put it down.” Bigger, who has not yet testified, was eager for the new bank to get new business, Lack said.
Lack eventually got behind on his payments, at which time bank officials discovered he owned no property. Even after this, however, Lack would still sign other financial documents claiming these same properties as real estate assets. During the trial, Lack repeatedly testified he signed whatever documents were put in front of him by his company’s financial officers. “I’m not good at this office stuff,” he explained. “I’m good being out in the field, making stuff happen.”
At one point, Cota suggested Lack had concocted a complex scheme to launder the loan money into his personal bank account and then to a friend of his and then back into the corporate bank account, all so he’d appear far more liquid than he really was. This, Cota argued, was designed to increase the company’s bonding capacity. Lack’s response? He never did any such things. He wouldn’t know how. Bank officials ultimately blew the whistle and pulled the plug on Lack’s loans.
Along the way, he took a $300,000 investment from his friend and political fellow traveler Mary Belle Snow to help start a new bank specializing in inner-city redevelopment schemes as well as green construction projects. She tearfully testified last week that Lack gave his word none of her assets would be touched until the bank got off the ground. She said she didn’t find out her money was gone until it was all spent. Dabbing tears from her eyes, Snow asked everyone in court, but especially Lack, “Do you have any idea how this feels?” The trial should conclude later this week