Mag­gio’s con­vic­tion up­held

Ex-judge’s free­dom ‘will soon change,’ ap­peals court says

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - DE­BRA HALE-SHELTON

A fed­eral ap­peals panel up­held for­mer Judge Michael Mag­gio’s bribery con­vic­tion and 10-year prison sen­tence Mon­day.

The de­ci­sion by a three­judge panel of the 8th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals in St. Louis came 2 1/2 years af­ter Mag­gio, 56, pleaded guilty to bribery in U.S. District Court in Lit­tle Rock be­fore Judge Brian Miller. A for­mer cir­cuit judge for Faulkner, Van Buren and Searcy coun­ties, Mag­gio has yet to serve a day in prison.

“Harsh words and lengthy sen­tence not­with­stand­ing, the district court al­lowed Mag­gio sixty days to get his af­fairs in or­der, and then granted Mag­gio’s mo­tion for re­lease pend­ing this ap­peal. The district court also had al­lowed Mag­gio to re­main free for the four­teen months be­tween his guilty plea and sen­tenc­ing,” said the panel’s opin­ion, writ­ten by Judge Wil­liam Jay Ri­ley.

“As the gov­ern­ment makes a point of in­form­ing us, Mag­gio has not yet served any time for his mis­deeds. That will soon change,” Ri­ley added.

“We’re go­ing to try to get Mag­gio in prison as quickly as we can,” act­ing U.S. At­tor­ney Pa­trick Har­ris said Mon­day.

In a Jan­uary 2015 plea agree­ment, Mag­gio ad­mit­ted tak­ing a bribe in July 2013 to lower a Faulkner County jury’s $5.2 mil­lion judg­ment in a neg­li­gence law­suit against a Green­brier nurs­ing home owned by Michael Mor­ton of Fort Smith.

On the same day that Mag­gio heard the Mor­ton at­tor­neys’ re­quest to re­ject or re­duce that judg­ment, July 8, 2013, Mor­ton signed off on checks to­tal­ing $24,000 for Mag­gio’s lat­est ju­di­cial elec­tion cam­paign. On July 10, 2013, Mag­gio cut the award to $1 mil­lion.

Mag­gio im­pli­cated Mor­ton and Gil­bert Baker, a lob­by­ist and fundraiser from Con­way, in the plea agree­ment, which re­ferred to them only as In­di­vid­u­als A and B, re­spec­tively. Mor­ton and Baker have said they be­lieve that Mag­gio was re­fer­ring to them but have de­nied any wrong­do­ing. Nei­ther is charged with a crime.

Asked Mon­day if the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of In­di­vid­u­als A and B con­tin­ues, Har­ris replied, “I think the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Mike Mag­gio is not over with.”

Har­ris also said that if Mag­gio de­cides to co­op­er­ate with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment af­ter he goes to prison, the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice would have the right to ask Miller to re­duce the sen­tence.

Har­ris said there is a fiveyear statute of lim­i­ta­tions on any case re­lated to Mag­gio’s bribe.

In an email Mon­day, Mor­ton spokesman Matt DeCam­ple said, “Fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors have not had fol­low-up con­tacts with Mor­ton’s team since the ini­tial Mag­gio in­ves­ti­ga­tion, so we have no knowl­edge of where any­thing will or will not go next.”

In a text mes­sage, Baker’s at­tor­ney, Bud Cum­mins, said, “We would merely note that even un­der the pres­sure Michael Mag­gio de­scribed sur­round­ing his orig­i­nal change of plea, Michael Mag­gio never claimed-then or now-that any il­le­gal agree­ment was ever dis­cussed with any­one.

“Gil­bert Baker adamantly main­tains he was never a party to any such dis­cus­sion or agree­ment and has un­equiv­o­cally stated so un­der oath,” Cum­mins wrote.

By the time 2016 and a sen­tenc­ing date ap­proached for Mag­gio, he was back­ing out of the plea agree­ment. He said he had been pres­sured into it. Miller re­jected that ar­gu­ment.

Mag­gio had also grown un­happy with the at­tor­neys who ad­vised him on the plea deal and even­tu­ally re­tained a Con­way lawyer, James Hens­ley Jr., in­stead. As the dead­line for ap­peal­ing the case neared, that at­tor­ney asked to be re­placed by an­other lawyer, Wes­ley Hall.

Hall ac­knowl­edged that his hav­ing joined the case so late in the process had ham­pered his abil­ity to rep­re­sent Mag­gio as well as he might have oth­er­wise. By then, for in­stance, Mag­gio had al­ready waived his right to ap­peal on most grounds and had signed off on a stip­u­la­tion of facts.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.