NEW ORLEANS – A federal appeals court upheld biodiesel entrepreneur Tommy Tacker’s federal fraud conviction Thursday.
Tacker, 58, of Aberdeen was convicted in 2010 on 10 counts that he knew about and made false statements to get some $3 million in biofuels subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Senior Judge Glen H. Davidson sentenced him to five years in prison and to pay $2.88 million in restitution. Serving his time in a federal facility in Alabama, Tacker is due for release in 2014.
Tacker maintains he knew nothing about the fraud and that his former business partner, now-disbarred Tennessee lawyer Max Speight, stole the money.
Tacker’s attorney, David Neil McCarty of Jackson, said they “are currently considering whether to ask for a rehearing or seek other relief for Mr. Tacker.”
Tacker’s appeal to the Fifth Circuit contended the court was wrong in refusing to warn the jury about testimony from Speight, the government’s chief witness at trial in Aberdeen.
Just before the trial, Speight cut a plea deal for leniency. He was sentenced to 26 months in prison and also to pay $2.88 million restitution.
The appeals court said the court’s instructions about Speight were “given fairly and adequately” to consider an accomplice “with caution and weighed with great care.”
The judges rejected Tacker’s contentions it was wrong to admit Speight’s limited testimony about a conversation with Tacker’s girlfriend. They also rejected his challenge to Speight’s credibility.
In a four-page opinion, the court said a “rational trier of fact” could have found that evidence established Tacker’s guilt on all offenses.
“We are disappointed in the ruling, as it ignores the very real problems of Max Speight’s credibility,” McCarty said. “He was the government’s main witness, had confessed to all the underlying crimes and been disbarred for stealing from clients. Yet, Mr. Tacker took the fall for what Speight confessed to.
“We think the way the jury was instructed was confusing and did not allow them to properly weigh Speight’s unreliability.”
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal