When the Government Won't Give Up
Last year, Georgia criminal defense attorney Mark Shelnutt was acquitted on charges of conspiring to launder money, 31 counts of money laundering, aiding and abetting a drug conspiracy, lying to federal agents, intimidating a grand jury witness, failing to report cash transactions over $10,000 and the attempted bribery of a federal prosecutor. He then sued the Government under the Hyde Act to recover his attorneys' fees.
Law enforcement didn't give up. Now, Georgia authorities have arrested him. The charges: eight felony counts of drug distribution. What did he do? Over a two month period, he gave 11 prescription pills to a long time friend, who happened to be working as a government informant. One percocet, 8 zanax and 2 hydrocodone pills, on 7 separate occasions.[More...]
"My understanding is that I've been charged with giving my lawfully prescribed medication, usually a single pill, to her six times over the past 2 1/2 months," often over lunch, he said.
...GBI Maj. Rodney Wall, special agent in charge of the GBI's Columbus office, confirmed Thursday that Shelnutt was not selling the prescription pills but "giving them away" and "just to our informant." ....
Under Georgia law, it is a felony to give a prescription pill to anyone, even a friend or family member, even for free.
Savannah attorney Thomas A. Withers, who defended Shelnutt in the federal case but is not currently representing him, said that in his 25 years of experience as both a prosecutor and defense counsel, "I have never seen individual handouts of a controlled substance without payment prosecuted as a case."
In his first case, the Government said Shelnutt committed money laundering by accepting legal fees to represent a drug dealer. It alleged the money came from the dealer's illegal activities. And two weeks before his trial began, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the legality of lawyers accepting illegal proceeds for representation in a criminal case.
The Government tried him anyway. After his acquittal, the trial judge blasted the Government:
U.S. District Judge Clay D. Land, who presided over Shelnutt's trial, later slammed federal prosecutors for making "sweetheart plea deals" with some of Columbus' most notorious drug dealers and suggested that the judgment of federal prosecutors in the office of the U.S. Attorney in Macon "may have become clouded by its zeal to bring down a prominent defense attorney."
And yet, the Government keeps trying to bring Shelnutt down. This time it's state authorities instead of the feds. Eventually, they may succeed. The first trial practically destroyed his law practice, his bid to recover attorneys fees for the last prosecution was denied and he's broke. He may end up having to represent himself this time around, and we all know how that usually turns out.
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