Gov.: No merit to claims of selective prosecution

Published 3:43 pm Friday, August 1, 2008

Attorney Paul Minor’s claims that he was the target of a politicized U.S. Justice Department that railroaded him into a bribery conviction are based on “wild speculation and innuendo,” federal prosecutors argue in court papers.

Minor, 62, built a national reputation and amassed a fortune by suing tobacco, asbestos and other companies. He was convicted in March 2007 of bribing two judges and sentenced to 11 years in prison. He is asking the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans for a new trial and accuses the government of selective prosecution of prominent Democrats.

Prosecutors said in papers filed this week that Minor’s claims are not a valid basis to overturn a conviction and he should remain behind bars during his appeal because his alcohol addiction makes him a danger to society.

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“Interestingly enough, Minor’s primary contention before the district court was that he was being prosecuted while Richard ‘Dickie’ Scruggs, who Minor claimed had engaged in the same conduct, was not being prosecuted,” the prosecution’s motion said. “Now, like Minor, Scruggs has been convicted and sentenced for his bribery of a circuit judge.”

Scruggs, another powerful attorney from the Mississippi coast, pleaded guilty in March in an unrelated bribery scheme.

Minor’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, was traveling Thursday and did not immediately respond to a message.

During the investigation that snagged Minor, his attorneys claimed Scruggs was being protected by his brother-in-law, former U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, a powerful Republican who retired last year.

Scruggs turned down an offer of immunity when asked to testify in Minor’s trial. Investigators said Scruggs was a “third-party intermediary used by Minor to pay of the balance” of a loan Minor secured for a judge. Scruggs was not charged.

A U.S. House Judiciary Committee report in April that questioned whether Minor was unfairly targeted also mentioned Scruggs. The report said Minor was indicted for guaranteeing loans to judges, but “another prominent Mississippi trial lawyer alleged to have engaged in virtually the same conduct, Richard Scruggs, was not.”

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility also is exploring allegations of selective prosecution in several cases, including that of Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. Diaz was indicted with Minor but cleared of all charges.

Diaz has called Minor a “political prisoner.”

Prosecutors, on the other hand, say Minor orchestrated a complicated scheme in which he guaranteed loans for judges, then used cash and third parties to conceal the fact that he paid off the loans. Two former Harrison County judges — Wes Teel and John Whitfield — were convicted of giving Minor’s clients favorable rulings in exchange for the money.

Minor said the loans were just campaign contributions for old friends.

Minor claimed in his appeal request that the high-profile firings of U.S attorneys in 2006 contributed to his prosecution. He said U.S. Attorneys Dunn Lampton and other prosecutors “were able to remove themselves from the list of U.S. attorneys slated for firing by bringing cases, like this one, against prominent Democratic supporters.”

Prosecutors countered that Minor’s claims make “reference to many matters that are completely irrelevant and are nothing more than wild speculation and innuendo unsupported by the evidence.”

Still, Minor claims his conviction will be overturned but it may be too late for his wife, who has terminal cancer. He wants out on bond while appealing the case.

Prosecutors said Minor’s pretrial bond was revoked during his trail “because his alcohol abuse problem made him a danger to the community, and he repeatedly and blatantly violated the district court’s orders.”

While Minor was on pretrial bond, he was charged with DUI and allegedly made crude comments to a woman in a bar before ending up in rehab. He was eventually jailed.