No prison de­lay for Mag­gio

Judge rules he must start serv­ing 10-year bribery term to­day

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - DE­BRA HALE-SHEL­TON

A fed­eral judge did not re­lent and ruled Tues­day that Michael Mag­gio must re­port to be­gin serv­ing a 10-year prison sen­tence for bribery by this af­ter­noon.

The de­ci­sion came more than 2½ years af­ter Mag­gio, a for­mer cir­cuit judge, pleaded guilty and ad­mit­ted tak­ing thou­sands of dol­lars for his po­lit­i­cal cof­fers in July 2013 to lower a Faulkner County jury’s $5.2 mil­lion against a Green­brier nurs­ing home owned by Michael Mor­ton.

Two days af­ter Mor­ton signed off on a se­ries of checks that orig­i­nally went to sev­eral po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees, Mag­gio slashed the award to $1 mil­lion.

Mag­gio’s cam­paign for a seat on the state ap­peals court never got all of the PAC money, but Mor­ton has said he had in­tended it for Mag­gio.

Even af­ter Mag­gio’s plea Jan. 9, 2015, he re­mained free for more than a year dur­ing a lin­ger­ing fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion tar­get­ing at least two other peo­ple — Mor­ton and po­lit­i­cal fundraiser Gil­bert Baker, a for­mer chair­man of the Arkansas Repub­li­can Party. The two have de­nied wrong­do­ing and are not charged with a crime.

Mag­gio, 56, had sought to de­lay his en­try to prison un­til July 26, but U.S. Dis­trict Judge Brian Miller wrote in a brief or­der Tues­day that Mag­gio “has had an op­por­tu­nity to present his ar­gu­ments on ap­peal. The [8th U.S.] Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals af­firmed his con­vic­tion and his sen­tence.”

In March 2016, Miller sen­tenced Mag­gio to 10 years in prison and two years of su­per­vised re­lease. Miller later agreed to let Mag­gio re­main free pend­ing the ap­peal. That ap­peal wasn’t re­solved un­til July 3 of this year. Even now, Mag­gio’s at­tor­ney, John Wes­ley Hall, is pre­par­ing to ask

for a re­hear­ing be­fore ei­ther the three-judge ap­peals panel that heard Mag­gio’s case or be­fore the full ap­peals court. Hall also can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to con­sider the case.

On Tues­day, the fed­eral ap­peals court granted Hall an ex­tra week to file the re­hear­ing re­quest with the St. Louis-based court.

Mag­gio has un­til 2 p.m. to­day to re­port to the U.S. Mar­shals Ser­vice of­fice in down­town Lit­tle Rock.

Act­ing U.S. At­tor­ney Pa­trick Har­ris said Mon­day that Mag­gio will be in­car­cer­ated in the Pu­laski County jail or a lockup in Ten­nessee un­til the Fed­eral Bureau of Pris­ons as­signs him to a prison. Mag­gio has re­quested and Miller rec­om­mended the prison at Texarkana, Texas, but the bureau makes the de­ci­sion.

Hall was in court on an­other case Tues­day and did not re­turn a mes­sage seek­ing com­ment. Mag­gio did not re­ply to a text mes­sage seek­ing com­ment.

As­sis­tant U. S. At­tor­ney Chris Givens de­clined com­ment Tues­day on whether the fed­eral bribery in­ves­ti­ga­tion is con­tin­u­ing.

In early July, Har­ris said, “I think the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Mike Mag­gio is not over with” when asked if the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of In­di­vid­u­als A and B con­tin­ued. That’s how Mag­gio’s plea agree­ment re­ferred to Mor­ton and Baker.

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.

There is a five-year statute of lim­i­ta­tions on any case re­lated to Mag­gio’s bribe, Har­ris said.

The law­suit judg­ment that Mag­gio low­ered had re­sulted from the death of Martha Bull, 76, of Per­ryville. She died in her nurs­ing home bed in 2008 without a physi­cian ever be­ing sum­moned de­spite her tears from pain, nau­sea, her “cold and clammy skin” and blood in her stool, ac­cord­ing to a re­port filed with the state.

Two of Bull’s daugh­ters have since sued Mor­ton and Baker in Faulkner County Cir­cuit Court in Con­way. The daugh­ters con­tend the men con­spired to fun­nel con­tri­bu­tions to Mag­gio’s cam­paign in ex­change for a re­duced judg­ment in the neg­li­gence case. The con­spir­acy law­suit is pend­ing.

Thomas Buchanan, an at­tor­ney for the daugh­ters, said Tues­day that he hopes the in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­ues “at least as it re­lates to In­di­vid­u­als A and B,” a ref­er­ence to Mor­ton and Baker.

The lead­er­ship of the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice in Lit­tle Rock and the per­son de­cid­ing whether that in­ves­ti­ga­tion will con­tinue could change soon. Pres­i­dent Donald Trump has nom­i­nated Pros­e­cut­ing At­tor­ney Cody Hi­land, whose ju­ris­dic­tion now in­cludes Faulkner County, to the po­si­tion.

For sev­eral months, Mag­gio co­op­er­ated with fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors in hopes of get­ting a lighter sen­tence. But things went awry in Jan­uary 2016 when, pros­e­cu­tors said, Mag­gio failed a poly­graph test and di­vulged pre­vi­ously with­held de­tails to in­ves­ti­ga­tors about his com­mu­ni­ca­tions with In­di­vid­ual B, a ref­er­ence to Baker.

The deal was off, and Mag­gio changed at­tor­neys and tried to with­draw his guilty plea. He said he had been pres­sured into it. In turn, pros­e­cu­tors rec­om­mended a tougher sen­tence, and on March 10, 2016, Miller handed Mag­gio the max­i­mum prison sen­tence the law al­lowed in his case.

Later, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment agreed to de­clare Mag­gio a “pau­per,” and the gov­ern­ment ap­pointed Hall, a prom­i­nent crim­i­nal-de­fense lawyer, to take over Mag­gio’s case.

Mag­gio’s fi­nan­cial con­di­tion had wors­ened in Septem­ber 2014 when the Arkansas Supreme Court or­dered him re­moved from ju­di­cial of­fice. He had held the job since Jan­uary 2001 and, in the end, was mak­ing roughly $140,000 a year.

An­other is­sue, not the bribery al­le­ga­tions, ended his ju­di­cial ca­reer. He was re­moved from of­fice in part be­cause of on­line com­ments he made about a range of topics, in­clud­ing women, sex, race, bes­tial­ity and a legally con­fi­den­tial adop­tion case in­volv­ing ac­tress Char­l­ize Theron.

The dis­clo­sure of those com­ments, which Mag­gio had made un­der a pseu­do­nym, also led to his with­drawal from his fi­nal ju­di­cial cam­paign.

Even­tu­ally, Mag­gio lost more than his ju­di­cial robe. He also sur­ren­dered his law li­cense.

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