Pubdate: Tue, 22 Dec 2009
Source: Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus,GA)
Copyright: 2009 Ledger-Enquirer
Source: Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus,GA)
Author: Alan Riquelmy
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Motion Cites 'Frivolous' Case By Prosecutors

Columbus attorney Mark Shelnutt has filed a motion asking a federal
judge to award him attorney fees and expenses, arguing that
prosecutors waged a "baseless, vexatious, frivolous, bad faith,
harassing and stubborn" case against him.

Shelnutt, acquitted last month of charges including money laundering,
aiding and abetting a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, attempted
bribery and making false statements, states in an exhibit to his
motion that he paid or must pay several attorneys more than $190,000
and that he incurred some $35,000 in expenses while defending himself.

"The government's entire investigation and prosecution of Mr. Shelnutt
evinced an intent by the government to convict Mr. Shelnutt at any
cost, including at the cost of letting key players in the 'largest'
drug trafficking organization in the history of the Columbus area go
free and ignoring evidence and law clearly indicating that Mr.
Shelnutt had done nothing wrong," the motion states. "The government's
.. prosecution of Mr. Shelnutt has inflicted untold stress, damage and
financial loss on Mr. Shelnutt and his family, and has caused
immeasurable damage to his formerly thriving law practice and
reputation in the community."

Shelnutt's May 21 indictment alleged a connection between Torrance
Hill, whom Shelnutt once represented. Hill pleaded guilty to drug
charges in 2006 and is serving a 24 1/2-year sentence.

Hill and several others linked to his drug organization testified at
Shelnutt's trial.

The Hyde Amendment

In the motion filed Dec. 15, Shelnutt states federal prosecutors had
evidence from Hill and others that cleared the attorney of any alleged
crime before the trial began. Prosecutors also knew, or should have
known, that all 40 of the original charges in the indictment couldn't
be backed up by the facts, the motion states.

During the trial, prosecutors tried to prove that Shelnutt was part of
Hill's drug organization, and that he told people in the drug ring to
bring him money.

Shelnutt states in his motion that prosecutors knew before trial that
receiving money for legal fees, even if gained from unlawful activity,
isn't money laundering.

In the motion, Shelnutt cites the "Hyde Amendment," enacted in 1997,
which enables a judge to award reasonable attorney's fees and expenses
to a defendant, "where the court finds that the position of the United
States was vexatious, frivolous or in bad faith," the motion states. A
judge could also award more than the fees and expenses totalled,
Shelnutt states.

"The government lacked any legal or factual basis to charge Mr.
Shelnutt with any alleged criminal activity," the motion states. "...
This conclusion is inescapable given the government's possession of
statements by its key witnesses and alleged coconspirators, Torrance
Hill, Latea Davis and Shawn Bunkley admitting, on tape, that Mr.
Shelnutt had not engaged in any wrongdoing."

Davis, Hill's former girlfriend, faced federal charges in connection
with the drug ring. She was put on pretrial diversion, which is
similar to probation without a conviction.

Bunkley pleaded guilty to drug charges, and prosecutors recommended a
sentence of three to four years in prison. U.S. District Court Judge
Clay Land, who presided over Shelnutt's trial, delayed Bunkley's
October sentencing until December, saying he wanted to ensure that
defendants were held responsible based on their conduct, not on what
the government agreed to in a plea agreement.

In December, Land sentenced Bunkley to almost 10 years in

Attorney's fees

In an exhibit attached to the motion, Shelnutt details the attorneys
and amounts he has paid or owes those who represented him.

Shelnutt states that he first learned of the criminal investigation
against him in February 2008 and retained defense attorney Frank
Martin and paid him $5,000.

Around March 2008, Shelnutt retained Atlanta attorneys David Wolfe and
Chris Adams, paying Wolfe $20,000 and Adams around $8,500.

Around March 2009, Shelnutt retained Macon attorney Charles Cox Jr.
and paid him almost $7,000 for services and about $255 for costs and

Also around March 2009, Shelnutt entered an agreement with Gillen
Withers & Lake, LLC, the firm that represented him at trial, and
agreed to pay $150,000 for their services and pay any expenses.

On behalf of Shelnutt, defense attorney Thomas Withers argues that the
government used "improper methods to attempt to produce a wrongful

"In its desire to convict Mr. Shelnutt at all costs, the government
cut Mephistophelean bargains with large-scale drug traffickers," the
motion states. "The government looked the other way as its witnesses
made false statements against Mr. Shelnutt before grand jury.
Fortunately, Mr. Shelnutt prevailed against the threat to his liberty,
but not against the threat to his reputation, career, financial
well-being, family and relationships, which were damaged almost beyond

"Mr. Shelnutt is entitled to an award of reasonable attorney's fees
and expenses of litigation under the Hyde Amendment." 
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