By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
ABERDEEN – William T. “Tommy” Tacker II of Okolona faces a virtual life sentence after a federal jury agreed Wednesday he took part in a multimillion-dollar biofuels subsidy fraud.
Tacker, 56, got into financial difficulties after trying to make a go with a Nettleton biodiesel refinery. His legal problems also stem from that enterprise.
The jury’s verdict came scarcely an hour after it began deliberations. It found Tacker guilty of 10 counts of conspiracy, filing fraudulent documents and aiding and abetting the scheme through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Commodities Credit Corp.
The eight women and four men apparently believed co-defendant H. Max Speight of Franklin, Tenn., who admitted in court that he filed virtually every fraudulent document, beginning in 2003, but said Tacker knew everything that was going on.
Two weeks ago, 66-year-old Speight pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and agreed to testify against Tacker. He faces up to five years in prison. They were indicted together in March 2009.
Tacker could receive up to 50 years in prison and up to $2.5 million in fines. At age 56, that could mean he spends the rest of his life behind bars.
Neither man will be sentenced for several weeks while the U.S. Probation Service develops background reports for consideration by Senior Judge Glen H. Davidson.
Late Wednesday, Tacker’s next legal options weren’t clear and his attorneys declined to comment.
Tacker’s trial began Monday. He received the verdict with his face devoid of expression, much as he appeared throughout the proceedings.
Wednesday’s session began with closing arguments from prosecutors Robert J. Mims and Clay Dabbs. Tacker was represented by Robert “Chip” Davis and Rhett Wise of Tupelo.
Mims told the jurors the conspiracy was not all Speight’s fault, as the defense insisted. “I would suggest that they did act together,” he said.
While he agreed that Speight did most of the work in the scheme, he said Tacker “shared in their enterprise.”
He asked the jurors to consider that the company, Biodiesel of Mississippi Inc., purchased very little soybean oil from which to make biodiesel and produced very little fuel. But it collected more than $2.8 million from the USDA for fictional production increases from mid-2003 until March 2005.
While the defense insisted Speight acted alone, Mims said, “Mr. Tacker had to have known what was going on.”
Tacker did not testify during the trial, and the defense did not put on a case after the government completed its part mid-afternoon Tuesday.
Davis told the jury Speight lied repeatedly during his testimony and reminded them of Speight’s 2008 conviction for stealing $1 million from Tennessee clients. He also was disbarred.
“Max Speight is a man of low character,” Davis said. “This is not a man you can put your trust in.”
He also reminded the jurors that their decision “is the central moment in Tommy Tacker’s life.”
“What you do will affect him forever, one way or another.”