Crime & Courts

Trial opens in Anchorage for former Security Aviation owner accused of fraud

A federal trial is beginning this week in Anchorage over fraud and money laundering charges against Mark Avery, a key figure in a decade-old case involving a jet aircraft business, rocket launchers, big money and shadowy intelligence figures.

Jury selection began Monday morning in U.S. District Court in Anchorage and wrapped up late in the afternoon with 12 jurors and two alternates selected. More than 80 potential jurors were in the pool questioned by Judge Ralph Beistline and attorneys. Three were excused because of upcoming knee replacement surgeries. Opening statements are set for Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

Avery is being tried on charges of wire fraud, money laundering and bank fraud — 17 federal felonies in all — related to $52 million drained from an elderly widow's trust and spent in less than six months.

Prosecutors say Avery used the money to buy vintage planes and jets, RVs, houses, boats and other extravagances that didn't benefit May Wong Smith or the $100 million trust created by her late, wealthy husband to care for her. But the defense maintains that Avery was operating within trust terms that allowed the three trustees, including Avery, to not only collect annual pay of $600,000 but also do business with the organization and the separate $350 million May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust.

Avery's company, Security Aviation, and his right-hand man, Rob Kane, were found not guilty in the 2006 case over whether the rocket launchers, attached to Cold War era Czech fighter jets, were dangerous illegal weapons or, as the defense successfully argued, just for show.

In 2007, Avery pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering charges over his spending from the May Smith Trust, but the case was thrown out after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that type of fraud in the charges didn't apply to Avery's situation. He now is charged under a different kind of fraud.

Stanley Smith, an Australian who made his fortune mining in Malaysia, died in 1968. His widow, May Wong Smith, originally from mainland China, never remarried. She died in 2006.

Lisa Demer

Lisa Demer was a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Dispatch News. Among her many assignments, she spent three years based in Bethel as the newspaper's western Alaska correspondent. She left the ADN in 2018.