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Ormond Beach Observer Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018 2 years ago

Ormond Beach City Commission Zone 4 candidate on trial

James Holcombe faces a week-long trial involving racketeering charges dating back to 2015.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

As other candidates for office focus on revving up their campaigns, City Commission Zone 4 Candidate James Holcombe is facing a jury trial three years in the making. 

Holcombe's trial revolves around racketeering and conspiracy to racketeer allegations dating back to a 2015 Volusia County Sheriff's Office sting where at least 21 individuals were arrested for the resale of gift cards at Holcombe's business, Cash for Cards. Many of the cards in question were illegally obtained by returning stolen merchandise to stores. 

Holcombe owned two stores in Daytona Beach and Bunnell. His father, Dale Holcombe, operated one out of Deltona. Both have entered not-guilty pleas and are not expected to take the stand.

Former employees and customers, however, will testify against the Holcombes on behalf of the state, announced Assistant Statewide Prosecutor Mary Brigid Sammon during opening statements on Tuesday, Aug. 7. She said the six "boosters" (term used during trial for the customers reselling gift cards) will testify about their methods, how their criminal activity was affected by drugs and how the Holcombes' business fit in that cycle. 

"They were going into Cash for Gift Cards multiple times a day, and they were selling multiple cards each time," Sammon said.

The Holcombes are being represented by attorney and Daytona Beach City Commissioner Aaron Delgado and attorney Blake Taelman. Delgado conducted opening statements and worked both to explain to the eight-person jury how gift card resale businesses operate and to discredit the state's witnesses. 

Delgado said the state's case relies on the word of "admitted liars, admitted thieves and admitted criminals" who all have something to gain by testifying against the Holcombes.

Assistant Statewide Prosecutor Mary Brigid Sammon conducts the opening statements on behalf of the state for James and Dale Holcombe's trial. Photo by Jarleene Almenas

He painted James Holcombe as a young man who saw an opportunity to make a profit in a successful business that "butted up against a little bit of an unsavory element." He took it and employed his friends to help him run it, Delgado said. 

"Ladies and gentlemen, we're really here today to talk about capitalism, and not a crime," Delgado said. 

Sammon used her opening statements to briefly inform the jury of the findings from the investigation conducted by an undercover VCSO detective, Jayson Paul, who would take the stand later that morning. 

She told the jurors of instances where the Holcombes allegedly told their employees "not to ask questions" about the merchandise they were buying. She also informed them of the amount of times a single booster would frequent Cash for Cards and conduct business. 

When on the stand, Paul testified that one of the boosters, Peter LaPlaca, sold over 600 cards to the business in a six-month timespan. LaPlaca will testify against the Holcombes. 

Attorney and Daytona Beach City Commissioner Aaron Delgado conducts the opening statements on behalf of James and Dale Holcombe for their trial. Photo by Jarleene Almenas

Cross-examination of Paul by the defense rendered clarification that the gift cards themselves were not stolen items and therefore would not have appeared on the VCSO's database for reported stolen goods. Paul also said on the stand that while James Holcombe was never seen returning an item, his father, Dale Holcombe, did use multiple bought gift cards from their business to purchase a chainsaw. He said Dale Holcombe later returned it in exchange for a gift card of higher value.

The state also put James Patterson on the stand. Patterson was the undercover deputy who conducted gift card transactions for the VCSO sting. 

The case is expected to be on trial until the end of the week. In a candidate statement submitted to The Ormond Beach Observer in mid-June, James Holcombe addressed the allegations against him and stated his innocence. He wrote that the facts and evidence presented at his trial will lead to his acquittal and vindication.

"It would be morally wrong to not fight for myself and my future family," James Holcombe wrote.

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