Re-sentencing set for Minor, 2 ex-judges

JACKSON — The federal resentencing hearing for imprisoned Mississippi attorney Paul Minor and two former judges was delayed again Monday, but not before Minor’s attorney accused a witness of perjury and one of the convicted judges was brought to tears by his son’s testimony.

U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate delayed the resentencing Monday in Jackson so he can take more time to consider pending motions seeking to throw out all of the convictions in the case. Wingate said attorneys have until Friday to submit more arguments and then he’ll schedule a conference call to decide when to hold the hearing.

Minor and former Harrison County judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield must be resentenced because a federal appeals court vacated their bribery convictions in 2009. The appeals court upheld other convictions, including honest services fraud convictions against each of the men and Minor’s racketeering conviction. Now Wingate is considering motions to vacate the remaining convictions because higher courts have limited the scope of honest services fraud.

The resentencing has been delayed at least five times.

Wingate allowed several witnesses to take the stand Monday on Whitfield’s behalf because they traveled from out of town and may not be able to come to the next resentencing hearing, which hasn’t been scheduled. The witnesses were two ministers, a doctor who discussed Whitfield’s stomach ailment, known as Crohn’s disease, and Whitfield’s son.

Greg Whitfield, a 23-year-old Southern University college student and star baseball player, and his father both fought back tears when the younger Whitfield took the stand. Greg Whitfield said his father has missed many family milestones, such as when Greg Whitfield led the Southwestern Athletic Conference in homeruns in 2009 and helped Southern University to a conference title.

“I love him and I want him home,” Greg Whitfield said.

“I understand that,” Wingate replied. “I know your father is proud of you.”

Two of Whitfield’s children are still in their teens.

The most contentious part of Monday’s hearing came when one of Minor’s lawyers, former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Chuck McRae, accused a witness in the case of perjury.

“That’s a strong accusation,” Wingate said, looking down from the bench.

“Yes, it is,” McRae replied.

Prosecutors say Minor orchestrated a complicated bribery scheme in which he guaranteed loans for the judges, then used cash and third parties to pay off the loans. The judges then allegedly ruled in his favor in civil cases that came before them. The perjury allegation was related to one of those cases.

The accusation was made during arguments on Minor’s request for the court to enforce subpoenas that seek reams of documents from USF&G Insurance Co. Teel ruled in favor of one of Minor’s clients, Peoples Bank, in a lawsuit involving USF&G in 2001. USF&G settled for $1.5 million. When they were originally sentenced, Minor and Teel were jointly ordered to pay $1.5 million in restitution, plus interest, to USF&G.

McRae said USF&G attorney Wayne Drinkwater lied when he testified about that case during the criminal trial.

USF&G lawyer Stephen Montagnet said the accusation was a desperate ploy by Minor to get his conviction thrown out.

“We’re not going to take the bait to get into the accusation of perjury,” Montagnet told the court.

Teel’s attorney, George Lucas, also distanced himself and his client from the statement, telling the court that they “do not accuse Wayne Drinkwater of perjury.”

McRae and Minor’s other lawyer, Washington D.C. attorney David Debold, said they needed Wingate to enforce the subpoena’s to get documents that they allege would show that Drinkwater gave false testimony in Minor’s two trials.

Wingate denied the request, calling it a fishing expedition.

Minor’s attorneys claim the subpoenas could turn up information that would show there were other reasons the company settled its lawsuit rather than allegedly adverse rulings by Teel. Minor’s defense also would like a lower dollar amount used when calculating the company’s losses when federal sentencing guidelines are used to sentence Minor again.

Minor, 65, has long said he did nothing wrong. He said the loans were meant to help friends in times of need and that he expected nothing in return. He was sentenced to 11 years.

Teel was sentenced to nearly six years in the case. Whitfield was sentenced to more than nine years.

Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Press