By PATSY BRUMFIELD / NEMS Daily Journal
ABERDEEN – Hal Neilson’s freedom and his nearly 20 years with the FBI are on the line in federal court.
A five-count indictment accuses Neilson, 49, of Oxford of lying about his financial interests in a building that houses the FBI. He has pleaded not guilty.
“When you look at those 20 years of commendations, I think you’ll see that’s how he was operating,” said his attorney, Christi R. McCoy, in the defense’s opening statements late Monday. “There never was an intent to deceive.”
The trial began with jury selection until almost 4 p.m. Seven men and seven women will sit in judgment, two as alternates, for the proceedings that could last two weeks.
Louisiana prosecutor Rene Salomon said he expects to call several dozen witnesses, including Oxford businessman John Covington, who recruited Neilson into a real estate partnership that included the East University Avenue building in question.
Covington, who has not been charged with anything, was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony.
Court resumes at 9 a.m. today at the federal courthouse in Aberdeen.
Neilson was indicted in January on charges of failing to disclose to the FBI his financial interest in the Oxford FBI Building and lying on annual financial disclosure documents. He faces up to 25 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine if he’s found guilty of all charges.
U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock told the jurors they must see him as innocent and that guilt can be found only if they are convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Salomon said the case begins “with reports Mr. Neilson did or did not file” about his financial interests in the building.
“The documents are the real proof – they tell the real story,” he told the jury.
Salomon and Richard Bourgeois Jr. from Baton Rouge were appointed to prosecute the case after the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oxford withdrew, citing conflicts of interest.
Neilson contends that he’s in this situation because of a long-running feud with ex-U.S. Attorney Jim Greenlee about Neilson’s criticism of investigations and methods by Greenlee across the years. Greenlee has declined to comment on the case.
Last week, Aycock banned the defense from making any references at trial to the bad blood.
Salomon termed “the fox guarding the henhouse” Neilson’s supervision of the FBI while associated with the building’s owner/manager Camp&G Partnership, set up by Covington and Dino Grisanti.
McCoy was feisty and emotional in defending Neilson and rebutting Salomon’s words to the jury.
“What do you think,amp” she said, “with 20 years with the FBI and suddenly he wakes up one day and decides to be a crook?”
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.