2 ex-judges, lawyer back to prison in loan scheme

By Jack Elliot Jr./The Associated Press

JACKSON — Former Mississippi attorney Paul Minor was re-sentenced Monday to eight years in prison in a judicial corruption scheme involving two ex-judges, who also were ordered back to federal lock-up.

U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate rejected the men’s appeal to be sentenced to time already served in the case. But Minor and former Harrison County judges Wes Teel, 60, and John Whitfield, 48, all will serve less time than when originally sentenced in 2007. All are in prison now.

The three had to be re-sentenced because a federal appeals court vacated their bribery convictions in 2009. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld other convictions, including honest services fraud against each of the men and racketeering against Minor.

Prosecutors said Minor, 65, would guarantee loans for the judges, then used cash and third parties to pay off the debts. Judges then ruled in his favor in civil cases. Minor has said the loans were meant to help friends in times of need and that he expected nothing in return. He was originally sentenced to 11 years.

Teel was sentenced to about four years in prison, a reduction of 19 months. Whitfield got about six years, a reduction of 22 months.

Teel and Whitfield have already served about 3½ years each. Minor has served about four years and nine months, including time spent in treatment for alcohol abuse — rehabilitation ordered by Wingate.

Wingate said the three will get credit for time served plus any good time determined by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Attorneys for the three said they have not decided on appeals.

Earlier Monday, Minor told Wingate that he “deeply, deeply regretted” having let down his family, including his wife, Sylvia, who died in 2009.

Minor said his wife had told him to not get involved in politics but he didn’t listen.

“I am not the Paul Minor who was before you four years ago. I am a Paul Minor who is still a work in progress,” he said.

Wingate said he expected Minor to continue to get treatment of substance abuse for the remainder of his sentence and have random drug testing under the direction of prison officials.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dave Fulcher said after the re-sentencing that Wingate “made it clear that these convictions were serious offenses and the sentences were to reflect the seriousness” of them.

The government had initially requested maximum sentences for the three men. Wingate said he would not do that, re-sentencing all three to terms that were less that those suggested in federal sentencing guidelines.

Wingate said he impressed by the contrition shown by the three.

“You have with you conduct earned a reduction” in the sentence, Wingate said.

Wingate said he also was concerned about the health of Teel and Whitfield. He said both men have been receiving medical treatment while incarcerated.

Teel had suffered a heart attack shortly after entering prison in December 2007 and had heart surgery in January 2008.

Whitfield suffers from for Crohn’s disease. There is no cure and the causes are unknown. With the disease, the immune system goes awry, causing inflammation in the intestinal wall. The disease is controlled by drug treatments.