Pubdate: Sat, 14 Nov 2009
Source: Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus,GA)
Copyright: 2009 Ledger-Enquirer
Author: Alan Riquelmy


The federal judge in the trial of Columbus attorney Mark Shelnutt said
Friday that he has "concerns" about the government's case after
prosecutors called their last witness. U.S. District Court Judge Clay
Land dismissed a witness tampering count against Shelnutt at the
government's request after it rested its case. Defense attorneys then
motioned for the remaining 39 counts to be dismissed.

Land said he would let the motion stand and wait to rule on it until
he sees the jury's verdict.

"I do have some concerns, but I'm not prepared at this time to take
the case from the jury," the judge said.

Defense attorney Craig Gillen argued that the 31 counts of money
laundering should be tossed out because receiving money from illegal
sources for attorney's fees wasn't illegal. Land agreed, saying if
that was the case, then "the government has a substantial problem on
the money laundering counts."

The 'talk'

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Ferguson was the first witness on the
stand Friday. He was the federal prosecutor on several drug cases
linked to convicted drug dealer Torrance "Bookie" Hill, who is
mentioned in Shelnutt's indictment and testified against him on Thursday.

Shelnutt faces charges including aiding and abetting a conspiracy to
distribute cocaine, money laundering and attempted bribery. His May 21
indictment alleges a connection between Hill, who pleaded guilty to
drug charges in 2006. Shelnutt once represented Hill.

Ferguson, FBI Special Agent Todd Kalish and Shelnutt had a meeting on
Feb. 28, 2008, the prosecutor testified. Shelnutt, who then
represented Choici Lawrence, told Ferguson he wanted to talk about his
client's case. Ferguson had concerns about Shelnutt, and after
speaking with his superiors, decided to record the

Under questioning by defense attorney Thomas Withers, Ferguson said he
lied to Shelnutt about his recording of the conversation when asked
and added that he'd do things differently now.

Ferguson said Shelnutt spoke most during the three-or four-hour
meeting and that the conversation was about Shelnutt's concern over a
possible federal investigation against him.

At one point, Kalish asked whether Hill was paying the legal fees of
others in his organization who were facing drug charges. Shelnutt said
he had previously discussed with Drug Enforcement Administration Agent
Steve Ribolla and his boss about getting money owed to Hill and
bringing it to them. That would mean Hill was cooperating, and that
the government would ask that Hill's 24 1/2-year sentence be reduced,
Shelnutt said.

"The problem was ... everybody out there stole whatever money that
they owe," Shelnutt said during the conversation.


Pamela Roberts, who worked for accountant David Caraway, testified
that Shelnutt once admonished her for depositing some of his money.
Caraway rented space in the offices of Berry, Shelnutt, Day & Hoffman,
and Roberts said Shelnutt was the only partner in the law firm who had
cash payments brought to him or his secretary.

Roberts had also done searches in the firm's accounting records on the
names of some defendants linked to Hill. While some payment records
were found for Hill and his former girlfriend, Latea Davis, no entry
was found on Davis around the end of 2006 or early 2007.

It was around Christmas that year, Davis testified on Wednesday, that
she wrapped $14,000 up in a gift box and dropped it off at Shelnutt's
firm. "Mr. Shelnutt told me that I did not have the right to question
him," Roberts said. "That it was his law firm, and that's the way he
had been doing it for years."

Cindy Meyers, special agent with the Internal Revenue Service,
testified that she examined the financial records of Shelnutt and his
then wife, Chris, from May 2005 into 2007. A chart shown to jurors
during her testimony showed bank deposits into Chris Shelnutt's
account increased from around $3,000 in early 2005 to around $11,000
in the middle of 2005 and $13,000 in the last part of the year.

Gillen questioned why Meyers limited her search to that time frame,
pointing out that her chart didn't show deposits made prior to Hill's
May 2005 arrest. Gillen said that Shelnutt had given money to his
church, St. Luke United Methodist Church.

"Yes, he did give money to St. Luke's Church," Meyers

"That's not a pattern you see in greedy drug dealers, is it?" Gillen

Wayne Charles Day Jr., a former law partner of Shelnutt's, testified
that firm members would have meetings where Shelnutt would be the main
person divvying up cash.

At some point before the firm dissolved in late 2008, Day approached
Shelnutt about the rumors of wrongdoing.

"He was very upset," Day said. "He was very angry with me. He
explained that he had never taken anything."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mel Hyde was the last witness on Friday. He
prosecuted Hill and said Shelnutt contacted him more times about that
client than any other.

At one point, Shelnutt sent a letter to Hyde about Hill's cooperation
in a Tennessee case. Shelnutt wanted immunity from prosecution if his
client cooperated, Hyde said.

"I thought it was astounding," the prosecutor added.

Shelnutt also approached Hyde a number of times in 2007 and offered
him Georgia football tickets.

"I was born a fan," Hyde said. "Mr. Shelnutt called me and offered me
free tickets to opening day. In light of everything that was going on
at the time, I thought it was an attempt to curry favor."

Georgia played Oklahoma State in the opening game that

Hyde said he declined each time Shelnutt offered him the tickets,
adding that on the second offer, Shelnutt said that Hyde could pay
face value for the tickets if it was an issue.

Hyde said Shelnutt was constantly contacting him about the possibility
he would be indicted federally. Gillen read portions of one letter
from Shelnutt under cross-examination.

"I have done nothing wrong and have broken no laws," Gillen read. "You
have no idea the personal toll it's taken on me."

Shelnutt asked for immunity in the letter, saying a former Superior
Court judge told him that she was recently interviewed.

"She laughed in my face and told me my career was about to come to an
end," Gillen continued, reading Shelnutt's letter. "Alleged crimes can
easily be manufactured. This investigation appears to this day to be
conducted in the shadows."

Defense attorney Thomas Withers told Land that he didn't yet know
whether Shelnutt's team would call any witnesses. The trial resumes
Monday at 8 a.m. 
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