Judge Agrees Two Charges in Corruption Case Warrant Further Consideration, Dismisses Motions for New Trials
Four of the five defendants convicted last month of bribery and extortion in the City Hall corruption trial gained traction in their arguments regarding two counts as U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn agreed this morning to further consider overturning the jury's verdicts on counts 18 and 19: conspiracy to commit deprivation of honest services by wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, respectively, both of which carry a maximum 20-year sentence. Lynn also denied all motions for acquittals and new trials as expected, and she said the pre-sentencing report won't be ready by January as she had hoped, meaning the defendants aren't likely to face sentencing until February.
Sam Merten Don and Sheila Hill cross Commerce Street this afternoon after Judge Lynn said she'd consider arguments against honest services and money laundering charges.
"If I have to decide this today, I'm going to rule for the defendants," Lynn said of the honest services conviction. She later decided to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the case of Weyhrauch vs. U.S, which is scheduled to begin December 8. The Weyhrauch case, which involves a former Alaska legislator, challenges the honest services fraud law, as does a case involving Conrad Black, which is also scheduled to be heard by the court on December 8. Additionally, Jeffrey Skilling, the former CEO of Enron Corp., has claimed the law is unconstitutionally vague, and the Supreme Court is expected to hear his case early next year. Both Hills and D'Angelo Lee were found guilty on this count.
Victor Vital, Sheila Hill's attorney, presented the initial defense of the money laundering count, claiming the act of bribery isn't complete until it gets into the hands of the recipient (in this case, Don Hill), and the government failed to prove Hill received any of the money. Sheila received money, but Vital argued that she wasn't the intended beneficiary. Ray Jackson, Don's attorney, spoke briefly and reiterated that the government failed to present proof that his client received any money.
"That's not being disputed, is it Mr. Meacham?" Lynn said.
"There's proof Mr. Hill wrapped his hands around a BMW," replied Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham, who held his hands up as if he was holding a steering wheel.
And there it was for the first time. The government admitted that despite claiming Don Hill was the mastermind of the entire conspiracy, the only evidence they had that he received anything from his efforts was the BMW.
Up next was Darlene Clayton-Deckard, Rickey Robertson's attorney. Huffing and puffing as though she had run a marathon, Deckard simply pointed out that her client was found not guilty of count 10 -- conspiracy to commit bribery -- so how could he be guilty of laundering the proceeds of the conspiracy if he wasn't a part of it?
Lynn established through Meacham that Robertson would have had to know that the money he received for the Beemer was illegal, but Meacham couldn't explain how Robertson could have possibly known that. "There's no direct evidence that he knows what [Sheila's] up to," Meacham admitted. Deckard joked that the only explanation would be "by osmosis." As a result, Lynn said she'd determine if there's sufficient evidence for the jury to have found Robertson guilty on the money laundering charge. Robertson, both Hills and Lee were found guilty on this count.
After the hearing, Don Hill told Unfair Park that Lynn's decision to give more thought to counts 18 and 19 is not only important from a legal standpoint but also from a public relations standpoint: "You look for glimmers, and those are significant things for us."
He remains steadfast in his innocence and expects his bribery and extortion charges to be reconsidered on appeal. "What you end up with is Brian Potashnik says that I pressured him so that his deal could get passed in exchanged for paying money on the Farrington & Associates contract," he says. "No e-mails about pressure, no phone wiretaps about pressure, no other evidence about pressure, no specific dates about pressure. It's just untruthful. He was just lying."
Hill also commented on our interview with juror Nedra Frazier, scoffing at her characterization of Bill Fisher as courageous. He described her statements as "a real concern" and said he had hoped the jury would look at the case objectively. "What you did with her showed that that didn't look like that happened."
Sheila Hill says she has yet to consider the thought of spending time in jail and claims she hasn't discussed a possible sentence with Vital. She too was discouraged by Frazier's comments. "It doesn't appear that there was any objectivity, but I wasn't in the jury room, so I don't know."
All of the defendants and their attorneys were in court with the exception of D'Angelo Lee, who was referred to on separate occasions as "D'Angelo Hill" by Vital and Meacham, who were corrected by Lynn. His attorney, Doug Greene, did not present any oral arguments in his defense.