PATSY R. BRUMFIELD: ‘Beyond a reasonable doubt’ a scary thought

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

I’ve been watching “Law & Order” too long.
Last week, I covered the federal trial of Okolona’s Tommy Tacker, accused in a 10-count indictment of a $3 million biofuels subsidy fraud.
Prosecutors Robert Mims and Clay Dabbs put on a meticulous case with witnesses and reams of documents showing how Tacker’s company, Biodiesel of Mississippi Inc., filed false reports about biodiesel production and gained payments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corp.
When BMI was audited, as every biofuels company is, the investigation showed discrepancies that indicated a scheme to defraud the government.
And so, last spring, Tacker and partner H. Max Speight of Franklin, Tenn., were indicted. They pleaded not guilty.

The punishment
If convicted on all 10 counts, each faced up to 50 years in prison and $2.5 million in fines.
Speight had already spent time with Tennessee’s Department of Corrections from a guilty plea to stealing some $1 million from real estate clients. And he subsequently was disbarred from his law practice.
When he cut a deal with prosecutors for his testimony, few people who knew anything about this case were particularly surprised.
Speight is 66. He already knew what prison looks like.
But Tacker was insistent about his innocence. He said he was just the guy who built and ran the Nettleton refinery, and that he didn’t have anything to do with what Speight was doing up in Tennessee.
At this trial, Speight admitted he had filed virtually every fraudulent document and received every fraudulent payment.
He said Tacker knew exactly what was going on.
Several other witnesses told the jury about documents and the fraud’s process, but no one among them ever offered a shred of paper or words from a conversation that ever directly pointed to Tacker’s personal knowledge of the fraud.
Oh, sure, he got money from the company. He talked with Speight about their financial problems, and he heard from Speight that he had exhausted all his own wealth to keep the company going.
In America, a defendant doesn’t have to testify. Tacker didn’t. With how this turned out, I keep wondering if he might have made a difference.
But Tacker is a cowboy, a bit of a rogue, and no doubt any thoughts about his testifying were blunted by fears that it could go badly.
When the 12-member jury came back in less than an hour with a guilty verdict on all 10 counts, I was surprised.
I told myself that while many of them probably thought Tacker should have known what was going on, not one shred of evidence – except Speight’s tainted words – implicated him.
“Use your common sense,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Mims to the jury.
I was sitting there thinking, if I were on trial for something this serious, I’d want them to use more than that. I’d want direct evidence; otherwise, I’m innocent.
Perhaps my own verdict standard was higher than “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If I’d been on that jury, I think I would have hung it up, at the very least.
But I wasn’t, and those dozen people surely gave it their best effort. They performed one of our citizenry’s most important duties.

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com. Follow her blog, From the Front Row, on NEMS360.com or read her posts on Twitter and Facebook.