Chuck Ponzi is subpoenaed to testify in a fraud case concerning a complex pyramid scheme. Ponzi’s deposition testimony is critical to the Plaintiff’s claims that investors were promised a 100% profit within 90 days of their investment. Having read about Roger Clemens recently avoiding perjury charges because his deposition testimony was not presented in court at a trial, Ponzi chooses to “alter” his testimony about the critical facts upon which the Plaintiff relies. Can Ponzi’s deposition testimony result in charges of perjury?
The Law in Texas
Yes. In Texas, there are two levels of perjury. If Ponzi makes a false statement, under oath, at a deposition with the intent to deceive, he could be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $400 and/or one year in prison. Ponzi would be guilty of “aggravated” perjury if, in connection with an official proceeding (like a trial), he makes a material false statement with the intent to deceive. Under this scenario, Ponzi would be facing a third degree felony charge with a fine up to $10,000 and two to ten years in prison. To find Ponzi guilty of “aggravated” perjury, there is an additional requirement of “materiality.” In other words, did the statement affect the course or outcome of the official proceeding? Whether or not a statement is material is for the court, not a jury, to decide. However, it is not a defense that the person thought that the false statement was not material. Interestingly, it is a defense to the prosecution of an aggravated perjury charge if a person retracts his false statement before the completion of the testimony at the proceeding and before it becomes evident that the falsity of the statement would be exposed.
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor
Bottom line, unless you are willing to risk fines or jail, don’t lie under oath. Although Clemens was acquitted of the government’s perjury charges, perjury charges and convictions do occur in Texas. In May 2011, a man from Tennessee Colony, Texas was sentenced to eight years in prison for aggravated perjury. Authorities claimed that the man had lied during a child custody hearing about his military background stating that he had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and had been awarded the Service Medal, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts, all of which were later determined to be lies.