By JAY STAPLETON
ORLANDO — For the first time since his trial began more than three weeks ago, the man accused of illegally selling millions of dollars worth of weight-loss drugs on the Internet argued to jurors Monday why he shouldn’t be found guilty.
Jude LaCour, 36, stressed in his closing argument that his business, Jive Network, based in Daytona Beach, was a marketing company. The law regarding online drug sales was never clear, he said.
“It was a gray area, but not illegal,” LaCour told the jury of 12, acting as his own attorney. “Maybe we were ahead of our time, but that’s not illegal.”
For more than three years, he said, his business that made $77 million did more than that. It connected people seeking to buy weight-loss drugs with doctors and pharmacists through online order forms.
“Obesity kills,” he said. “But we’re not prosecuting the food companies.”
Wearing the same blue jail jumpsuit, with a ripped sleeve, that he wore throughout the trial, LaCour said Jive Network did not hide its ownership structure, paid taxes, rent and attorneys.
“The government has not proven their case,” he said. “I don’t even think they have a case. The DEA doesn’t write laws; Congress does.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Gable compared Jive Network to back-alley drug selling, driven by greed. She reminded jurors in her closing argument that LaCour and his father, Jeffrey LaCour, had an agreement to distribute proceeds of the $77 million business.
“They were working together to distribute the profits from this organization,” she said, laying out how the younger LaCour gave a woman he married in Las Vegas money to open a bank account. “He was able to make it look like her money,” Gable said.
Gable argued that phentermine and other weight-loss drugs were sold online by Jive without valid prescriptions because doctors never saw the buyers face to face.
Attorneys for three doctors also on trial, however, argued the doctors were acting in the normal course of their practices.
“As you consider all of the evidence, we are asking that you return a verdict of guilty,” Gable said.
During his closing argument, LaCour accused the prosecutor of “twisting good things to make them look evil. He spoke of selective prosecution, his good-faith belief that what he was doing was legal, and insisted making money is not a crime.
“Do your back-alley drug pushers pay lawyers?” he said. “Do they pay taxes? Millions of dollars. Do they accept credit cards? No they do not.”
“Yes, we made a lot of money,” he said. “But we could have made more. Making money is not a crime, it’s the American dream. Don’t we all want to make money?”
Although he was prohibited by U.S. District Court Judge David D. Dowd Jr. from making the argument he believed what he was doing was legal, LaCour made that point as often as he could.
LaCour said lawyers represented the company, and him, from the beginning. He said the doctors were licensed professionals.
“We relied on these doctors or pharmacists that (customers) got their approval from,” he said. “Even lawyers, the DEA and $40 billion drug companies weren’t clear on the legality.”
“Lawyers represented Jive until the day it closed,” LaCour argued. “If lawyers thought it was illegal, they wouldn’t have taken its money.”
Judge Dowd interrupted, reminding LaCour that he had chosen not to testify and couldn’t start now. The closing argument was supposed to deal only with the evidence shown. “If you continue (with similar comments) I’m going to sit you down.”
The jury began deliberating about 3 p.m., and a verdict expected this week.
If convicted of conspiracy, money laundering and sale of controlled substances, LaCour could face more than 20 years in prison.