The conversations allegedly began around February 2009, right after Ronald Dardinski was released from his latest jail term. He told a federal court jury Wednesday that he reached out to attorney Robert A. George several times and that he eventually encountered him at a shopping mall in Braintree, where George offered to help him launder proceeds from his past crimes.
George, Dardinski said, had told him in follow-up discussions that he would have to pay a mortgage broker 20 percent to “clean” $100,000, but that the deal would be proper, that he would not have to pay taxes, that he had no worries.
“If this guy isn’t all right, you can hold me 100 percent responsible,” George, 57, told him, according to a recording played in court of a March 18, 2009, conversation between the two men.
Eventually, prosecutors say, Dardinski made two such deals, and George got $20,000.
Dardinski, 44, a self-admitted career criminal and government informant, is the key witness in George’s trial on money-laundering and bank deposit-structuring charges, and he took the stand in the first day of testimony in the high-profile case to describe George’s alleged plan to help him clean, or legitimatize, his money. All along, Dardinski was cooperating with the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
His testimony is slated to continue Thursday in federal court in Boston, and defense lawyers are expected to question him later in the day. Already, they have called him a cheat who orchestrated the plan and tried to ensnare George, well known for his testy exchanges with prosecutors, in order to curry favor with the government.
Dardinski has been paid more than $75,000 for his work as a government informant, and he expects to be paid more for his participation in the George case, said Robert M. Goldstein, one of George’s defense lawyers.
“The evidence will show there is not a situation he will not lie in, not a person who he will not lie to, particularly if it is in his interest in doing so,” Goldstein told jurors in his opening statements Wednesday. He said George did nothing illegal.
Assistant US Attorney Zachary R. Hafer said in his opening statements that George knew the man he was dealing with. “He knew he was a criminal; he knew he was making his money from crime,” Hafer said.
Dardinski, a twice-married father of six who is now living with a girlfriend, acknowledged to prosecutors that he had a history of crimes dating back to high school.
Between time in jail, he worked and ran auto body shops and repossession companies. He said he hired George in the early 2000s to represent him on two cases and paid him a $5,000 fee and then $3,000.
Dardinski said he later grew angry at George for what he thought was poor representation in one case and requested money back. George always put him off, he said.
He said he sought George out after being released in jail in 2009, still seeking to recoup some of the $5,000 he had given him for his representation. “I was mad at him,” he said.
They eventually met in what prosecutors called a chance encounter in Braintree. Dardinski told jurors that George asked him if he had any money left over from past crimes. George, according to Dardinski, told him he could help him hide the money.
Dardinski said he later reported the encounter to investigators, and he agreed to wear a recording device in future conversations.