By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Press
JACKSON – A federal appeals court tossed out bribery charges against a wealthy ex-lawyer and two former judges Friday, but upheld most of the convictions in a high-profile judicial corruption scandal in Mississippi.
Paul Minor, who was one of Mississippi’s most successful attorneys at one time, and Harrison County judges John Whitfield and Wes Teel were convicted on numerous counts in 2007. Prosecutors said Minor orchestrated a complicated scheme in which he guaranteed loans for the judges, then used cash and third parties to pay off the loans. They allegedly ruled in his favor in civil cases.
Minor, 63, is serving the longest sentence of the three – 11 years in a federal prison in Pensacola, Fla. Before being indicted, Minor was considered among the top tort lawyers in Mississippi, amassing a fortune by suing tobacco, asbestos and other companies.
A 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in New Orleans threw out a bribery conviction for each of the men, but upheld other convictions, including mail fraud, wire fraud and honest services fraud. The court also tossed one conspiracy charge each against Minor and Teel.
No new sentencing date set
The ruling means the men will be sentenced again on the remaining charges. A new sentencing hearing was not immediately set.
It’s not clear how much the reversal will reduce Minor’s sentence because he got the most time for a racketeering conviction, which was upheld.
The court reversed Minor’s conviction on three counts – one of conspiracy and two counts of bribery – and upheld eight others.
“We appreciate the Court of Appeals’ thoughtful consideration of Paul Minor’s case and its reversal of his federal bribery conviction,” Hiram Eastland Jr., an attorney for Minor, said Friday.
Minor’s legal team will ask the three-judge panel to reconsider the other issues raised on appeal or ask for the entire 5th Circuit to hear the case, Eastland said.
And, Eastland said, Minor’s legal team hopes that cases currently before the U.S. Supreme Court dealing with honest services fraud will come down in their favor. Honest services fraud carries up to a 20-year sentence, and is used to prosecute people involved in schemes to “deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.”