An El Paso businessman convicted in an alleged plot to cheat Johnson and Johnson, Kimberly Clark and other manufacturers out of millions of dollars has now filed an appeal to overturn his conviction.
Lawyers for Chris Balsiger, former CEO of International Outsourcing Services, or IOS, filed the appeal March 1 in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Wisconsin.
Balsiger, 64, was found guilty in December 2016 on a dozen counts for orchestrating a sophisticated coupon-fraud scheme that allegedly bilked manufacturers out of as much as $185 million. In March 2017, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $65 million in restitution.
Now he is in La Tuna Federal Correction Institution, a low-security prison in Anthony, New Mexico, prison records show.
In appealing his conviction, Balsiger claims he was denied the right to counsel when his longtime attorney, Sib Abraham, died and his request to delay the trial so he could obtain a new lawyer was denied.
His lawyers also argue that the judge erred by relying “exclusively on a void contract to determine his legal obligations and guilt.”
One of the biggest white-collar criminal investigations in El Paso in recent memory, it resulted in the demise of IOS, which was in its heyday the biggest operation of its kind in the nation.
The company contracted with retail companies and others to process coupons used to purchase products in their stores, processing 40 million to 60 million coupons every week at its processing plants in Juárez, Acuna and Muzquiz, Mexico.
On March 6, 2007, Balsiger, his company and ten others were charged with 25 counts of wire fraud. Prosecutors said Balsiger led a scheme in which coupons were submitted for reimbursement that weren’t actually used by consumers to purchase products.
Since then, the businessman has vociferously argued that he is innocent.
Balsiger hired prominent El Paso defense attorney Sib Abraham Jr. “and paid him $1 million to represent him in this complicated, document intensive, multi-defendant, multi-count, white-collar criminal prosecution,” the appeal states.
The case dragged on for seven years, and Abraham died on July 4, 2014. Over Balsiger’s objections that he did not have the funds available to hire a “competent replacement council,” the trial was set for Feb. 23, 2016.
The government had filed a lis pendens on Balsiger’s house in El Paso, which effectively prevented him from selling it, and the judge denied Balsiger’s request to have it lifted it so he could sell the house and use the proceeds to retain a new attorney.
“With the record lacking any evidence that no qualified attorney will agree to represent Balsiger under the circumstances at hand, this court will not order the government to lift the lis pendens,” the judge ruled.
“The court gave (Balsiger) a choice, either hire an attorney within 21 days who can be ready for trial in eight months or represent yourself,” the appeal states.
The bench trial was delayed after Balsiger was admitted to the emergency room for chest pains, and when it began on Oct. 6, 2016, Balsiger represented himself with advisory “standby” counsel appointed by the court.
He was the only defendant remaining in the case; the others either had charges dismissed or accepted plea deals.
After Balsiger’s conviction, U.S. attorney Rick Frohling told El Paso Inc. in an email statement, “Now that the trial has been concluded, we simply would state that after years of delays (which the court had concluded were intentionally caused by Mr. Balsiger and a codefendant), the United States was grateful to have had an opportunity to fully present its evidence.”