WARSAW — The 12-member jury, with two alternates, were seated in the Dr. Mark Soto trial this afternoon, following the lunch break. Opening statements from the prosecution and defense were the final actions of the day, with court recessing at 4:10 p.m. The court will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2, with the prosecution calling its first witnesses.
Soto was indicted by a grand jury on Dec. 16, 2015, with charges officially filed on Feb. 29, 2016. He was indicted on six charges: three counts of corrupt business influence, and three counts of intimidation. Also indicted were Kevin Bronson, Warsaw, and C. Aaron Rovenstine, who was sheriff of Kosciusko County at the time. Rovenstine plead guilty to one count of intimidation and was sentenced to one year probation. Bronson entered a plea agreement to one count of corrupt business influence. His plea has been taken under advisement with acceptance/sentencing to take place on Sept. 29.
Special Prosecutor Tami Napier presented the prosecution’s opening statement with Scott Lennox, defense counsel presenting the defense’s statement.
Napier stated Soto’s upstanding position in the community and his religious position as a pastor did not give him the right to hide the activity he and Bronson were conducting. Napier also noted Bronson and Soto have been linked together for 20 years and Soto was “well aware of everything he (Bronson) was into and up to in his life.”
Bronson’s arrest in December of 2014 for cocaine began the investigation when a parent of an individual incarcerated notified authorities that Bronson had intimidated her son. Warsaw Police Lt. Paul Heaton was assigned the case on Dec. 29, 2014. He asked and listened to jail calls made by Bronson. Napier noted every single day there was a call from Bonson to Soto. “He (Heaton) reviewed the calls and learned Soto was not a victim as first thought.”
Her argument pointed out Soto and Bronson, over a period of years, received a lot of money from a lot of people on the premise to support a book or movie deal about Bronson’s life and his redemption. “Bronson will testify to his activities he understood with Soto,” adding there will also be testimony from people who gave money and how the over $200,000, funneled through Young Dragon Enterprises LLC for this purpose but was used for personal pleasure by each one.
According to Napier there will also be testimony by those who were placed in fear of retaliation for declining to provide legal services, provide information or funds — the beating or killing of themselves or members of their family. “It was an intense investigation … and after the evidence is presented the jury will find Soto guilty as charged.”
Lennox stated his client was the victim. He noted Soto, just like others, was threatened with physical harm if he did not do what Bronson instructed him to do. Lennox stated his client slept at night with a gun on his lap because of that fear.
The acquaintance between Bronson and Soto, stated Lennox, was a promise Soto made to Bronson’s father to never give up on him and to lead him down the Christian path and redemption. “He was a man of his word. He never gave up,” said Lennox. Additionally, Lennox said Soto was used as the conduit, through the use of threats, to relay Bronson’s threats that if money was not given to him, what would happen by members of the Aryain Brotherhood. “Soto felt it was his duty, obligation to relay the warnings of what would happen.