Attorney in Miss. bribery case requests minimum-security prison

Published 4:31 pm Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A federal judge has agreed to recommend that wealthy Gulf Coast attorney Paul Minor be sent to a minimum-security prison in Florida to serve time for a judicial bribery conviction.

It’s not clear whether the U.S. Bureau of Prisons will grant the request.

The prison Minor wants to go is in the Florida Panhandle. It has dormitory housing, little or no perimeter fencing and a low staff-to-inmate ratio, said Mike Truman, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. It houses some 678 inmates.

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Minor, a high-profile plaintiffs attorney, made millions in tobacco, asbestos, medical malpractice and car safety lawsuits. He was sentenced to 11 years Friday by U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate.

Minor asked Wingate to recommend he serve his time at the Federal Prison Camp Pensacola, located on a military base in west Florida. Minor said he chose the facility because it’s close to where his parents vacation in the winters and would allow them to visit.

Wingate agreed to make the recommendation.

The Bureau of Prisons tries to accommodate a judge’s recommendation, but a sentence of more than 10 years usually prevents an inmate from serving time at any “federal prison camp,” the lowest security level facilities in the system, Truman said.

The question in Minor’s case is whether the time he has already spent in jail, more than a year, could be deducted from the 11-year sentence for placement purposes, making him eligible for the prison camp. Minor will get credit for time served, it’s just not clear if that will affect his placement in the system.

“We’ll have to wait for all the paper work to come in,” Truman said.

Minor’s attorney, Abbe Lowell of Washington, did not immediately respond to a message left Monday at his office.

Minor has been held in the Madison County Jail since September 2006 after Wingate found Minor violated the terms of his pretrial bond for excessive drinking. He was in and out of jail before then for violating his bond, and he spent time in a treatment center.

The Bureau of Prisons considers several factors when placing an inmate, including needs for substance abuse treatment, a factor that will almost certainly come into play in Minor’s case. Other factors are: age, education, the severity of the offense and bed availability. Also, the prison system tries to put inmates in a facility within 500 miles of home.

The same factors will be considered for the two judges who were convicted of taking the bribes from Minor.

Former Harrison County Chancery Judge Wes Teel, sentenced to five years and 10 months, requested a facility in west Florida or south Alabama. There are two facilities in west Florida: the Federal Correctional Institution in Marianna, with medium and minimum security housing, and the Pensacola facility. In south Alabama there is the Federal Correctional Institution in Talladega, a medium security facility with a minimum security satellite camp.

Former Harrison County Circuit Judge John Whitfield, sentenced to more than nine years, made a more unusual request. He did not request a particular facility, but asked specifically not to be sent to Beaumont Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont, Texas, or to the Yazoo City Federal Correctional Complex in central Mississippi.

Whitfield told the judge he’s worried about running into violent criminals who might hold a grudge from coming before Whitfield when he was on the bench.

It could be weeks before it’s clear where the men will be sent to serve their time. One thing is certain. Wherever they end up, they’ll have jobs making between 12 cents and 40 cents an hour.

“Every inmate works unless they are medically assigned or there is a security reason,” Truman said.

The jobs include “orderly jobs, like scrubbing toilets, cleaning floors and washing pots and pans.”

Working for pocket money will be a change for Minor, who still draws more than $2 million a year from a tobacco settlement.