The State Journal ran a story today entitled “Guilty Pleas Expected in Development Scam” announcing that a former United Bank Vice President and loan officer who we sued as a part of our Walnut Springs Mountain Reserve civil fraud case, “R. Leon Cooper” has agreed to plead guilty to federal crimes as part of a plea deal.
The conduct supporting the plea has to do with fraud which occurred in the development of the “Lamplighter” subdivision in Lewisburg, WV. The story also noted that:
As part of the guilty pleas, both Carter and Cooper agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s office on further investigations. Both Carter and Cooper also will forfeit nearly $2 million in valued property.
Carter is scheduled to enter his guilty plea Jan. 6 in Beckley. Cooper’s plea has been scheduled for Jan. 13 in Beckley.
Cooper was the former Fayette Planning Commission president involved in the failed River Ridge development in Fayetteville.
That development crumbled when sewer plans for the development were prematurely approved so loans Cooper facilitated through United Bank could be approved for property purchasers, according to lawsuits filed concerning that development.
Cooper also has been named in a civil lawsuit filed in the failed Walnut Springs development in Monroe County.
The Monroe County lawsuit is pending.
There also was a story in the Charleston Gazette yesterday that United Bank paid $15,000,000.00 in fraud settlements in 2009 alone. And we wonder why the economy collapsed…. The Gazette also ran a story on Friday on the Cooper fraud. The banks have been running absolutely wild. We are still sorting out how many innocent U.S. citizens were harmed due to bank fraud in the mid to late 2000′s. It is a big deal for these two West Virginia publications to start reporting on United Bank’s dirty laundry. For those of you who don’t know, United Bank basically runs the state of West Virginia. It is the “state’s largest bank” and many, many people and institutions in West Virginia are afraid of it. But once the cat’s out of the bag, it’s out. I suspect we will read more soon.
Ok, here’s more: A Virginia businessman, Osama M. El-Atari, 31, pled guilty to bank fraud totaling $53,000,000 in fraudulent loans. Guess who else was involved? That’s right, United Bank. A United Bank Vice President and loan officer (same general position as Cooper), Sissaye Gezachew, 32, was arrested and pled guilty to bank fraud for his involvement with El-Atari. See Washington Post article and FBI press release. Banks do not exactly advertise these incidents, or even explain them, to their customers or shareholders. In fact, they don’t even let their mortgagees who have been victims of fraud know about the fraud. Rather, they pretend it never happened and demand their money. Then they foreclose and threaten to garnish wages. Of course you would still be safer with United Bank than dealing with United Bank of Africa.
There is a story in the Charleston Daily Mail today titled, “Judge refuses to accept guilty plea from ex-firefighter.” Apparently the defendant was charged with second degree arson for the destruction of a boat dock. According to the assistant prosecutor, it may have been an accident – albeit a reckless one. But recklessness or negligence, doesn’t qualify as “willful or malicious” if there was no intent to set a fire or burn an object – thus giving the prosecutor good reason to plead the case to a destruction of property – a misdemeanor.
But apparently the judge wasn’t having it, and refused to accept the plea. Something that I have noticed in arson cases: the judges’ take them very seriously. When buildings or objects are getting burned in their districts, people pay attention and so do the judges. The judge doesn’t want to be the one who let the defendant out on probation only to have something else burn down.
And being that there is no misdemeanor arson charge, the only lesser-included available is destruction of property – which carries a maximum of one year in jail. Oftentimes, an arson defendant already will have served a considerable amount of time in jail because the bond was most likely set extremely high – or else they have been on home incarceration. The result is that the person will not do much time – and hence, the judge doesn’t want to accept the plea.
But can the judge do that? Yes, if he finds there is no factual basis for the plea. But, is there anything stopping the prosecutor from dismissing the charge and recharging destruction of property? Probably not – unless the judge is going to try the case, which of course he can’t do. In any event, the case would have to be dismissed eventually due to lack of speedy trial.
- John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.
While perusing Fort Worth criminal defense attorney Shawn Matlock’s blog, I came across a post describing the world of Texas’ Magistrate Court, which seems to be strikingly similar to West Virginia’s Magistrate Court. Apparently we are not that unique with respect to the concept of speed-pleading. And I thought that I was the only one who felt uncomfortable in that type of judicial atmosphere…
– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.
Note: this post was initially much more extensive. Pursuant to the advice of my beautiful wife, against whom I have never won an argument (and suspect I never will), and who’s advice has the usual effect of making my hot-heated initial reactions seem childish and ineffective, I have revised this post.
It seems that my humble commentary regarding the Register-Herald op-ed piece detailed in my last post touched quite a few nerves at the Monroe Watchman newspaper. For those of you who may not know, the Monroe Watchman is the main newspaper for Monroe County, West Virginia, and it has been continually published since 1872. It’s a great paper. I read it every week, and I am also a paying advertiser. They are also located right across the street from my office building.
Why should they care about my commentary in this post? Because the Watchman is owned by the family of the former prosecutor who I allegedly criticized, and understandably, they are protective of their family members. And also understandably, the former prosecutor is deeply hurt as a result of the lost election. And I completely understand the hurt, as I suffered through my father’s election defeat as a college student. It’s not easy to see negative television commercials about your father running during prime-time every couple of minutes for a month straight. Your natural reaction is to lash-out at your perceived threat, and I guess that that is what I was doing as well in my initial response in this post. And so I also understand why the former prosecutor feels the need to protect himself and his family.
This situation is not about me, it’s not about the former prosecutor, nor the current prosecutor, nor the magistrate – nor the Watchman. This is about Mr. Watson, who made the intentional choice to consume alcohol and drive a dozen children off of a 120 foot cliff in a Monroe County school bus. This is about Mr. Watson, who tried to save his own skin by lying and claiming that he consumed Nyquil the night before. This is about Mr. Watson, who misled much of the community into believing that he was innocent, only to let them down with the sad truth – that he had an alcohol problem. But, he still didn’t want to lose his job, and he didn’t want to lose his retirement. That was what Mr. Watson was worried about. Was he worried about the children on board his reckless DUI school bus? No, he was worried about himself. This is about the fact that Mr. Watson received a plea deal where only two days was recommended, and where he only received twelve (to serve on the weekends at his leisure).
When I was working as a young prosecutor in Raleigh North Carolina, I tried a man for 2nd offense DUI. He was convicted and sent to jail for one year. There was no accident, no children in the car, no adults in the car – nobody injured whatsoever. He was just some guy who got pulled over and failed some field sobriety tests. That was a serious charge. He was the first person I sent to jail as a prosecutor. I’ll never forget the image of a deputy walking up behind the man and putting him into handcuffs. Imagine if this man, when he was pulled over, had a child in the car? Imagine if he had a dozen children in the car. Imagine if he had a dozen children in the car and drove off a 120 foot cliff. Imagine that he did this with your child in the car, entrusted to his care, and that afterwards he lied and told you that it must have been the Nyquil he took the night before? My point is, this is about protecting the children. We should have made an example of this man. He was a school bus driver for heavens sake! The citizens of Monroe County trusted him to drive their children to school and back every day!
I have been on the other side of the coin as well. As a defense attorney in Greenbrier County several years ago, I had a client who was convicted of 2nd offense DUI. We begged and pleaded to the judge for a light sentence, since he wanted to join the military. The guy was sentenced to one year in jail – and he actually went to jail for about 8 months before he got out of jail. He wore the orange jumpsuit and ate the awful food for breakfast, lunch and dinner – everyday. He did his time. He didn’t whine or complain. He served his debt to society.
My argument is simply this: did this man not deserve a real punishment? Would it really have been a great miscarriage of justice if this man had really been forced to serve a real sentence in jail? I don’t think so. It happens all the time in 2nd or 3rd offense DUI cases. Is it not more egregious for a man to get drunk and then drive a school bus loaded with children? And then to actually crash off a cliff?
Since the Editor criticized me for making “no effort to discuss the issue with Mohler before writing [my] scathing assessment…” then I will reiterate the same offer that always exists on this blog – both to subjects of my posts and to casual observers: if you disagree with something I have said, then please, by all means, leave a comment on the blog. As always, anonymity will be maintained where requested.
- John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney
As some of my readers will remember, I was given some flack in the community for speaking out early against this bus driver – Clyde Watson. And as it turns out, Mr. Watson proved himself to be a disgrace after all. The really mind-numbing part of this is, that people in Monroe County love this guy for some reason. It seems he is the “everybody’s favorite uncle” type. The editorial slams Monroe County for the way in which this case was handled.
The editorial places some blame on the prosecutor, and I must now stick up for him with respect to the most-generous plea deal. The previous prosecutor made the plea agreement. No matter how ludicrous the agreement was, it was the current prosecutor’s duty to follow-through with that agreement. It is no different than if he made the agreement himself. So, it was not his fault that the plea agreement was executed.
The paper gave a lot of flack to the magistrate, who gave the guy a 12 day sentence, to be served on the weekends at his leisure. To her credit, she actually increased the sentence from what the previous prosecutor had agreed to recommend – which was 2 days. However, it seems that the guy just walked in and asked to be sentenced quietly – without a lawyer, and without the prosecutor (or any victims) present. The paper did note that the magistrate made a phone call to the prosecutor to make sure that the sentence was okay with him. Actually, this is pretty much what always happens in misdemeanor cases in magistrate court.
Welcome to the world of magistrate court. The prosecutor is king. The prosecutor wants X, he gets it. The prosecutor wants Y, he gets it. Trust me, I am still waiting on a phone call from a magistrate requesting my blessing for someone’s sentencing. And this is the way things happen. If you are charged with a felony, there is a boatload of paperwork and formal procedure (and legal mumbo-jumbo). But, if you are charged with a misdemeanor, then you are in magistrate court, and things appear, disappear, reappear, and are modified, with not much more than the stroke of a pen or a phone call. That’s just the way it works.
Observing from the ivory tower is one thing, but in reality, what could have been done differenlty by this prosecutor and this magistrate? About the only thing the prosecutor could have done differently is make sure that the victims were given the opportunity to speak at the sentencing. But then again, that is almost never done in misdemeanor cases. He could not have recommended or argued for anything more than 2 days.
The magistrate could have reviewed the presentence investigation report (“psir”) prior to the sentencing, and could have scheduled the hearing for a date when the victims and their families could have been there to speak. But in reality, if a psir was prepared, the guy was most likely petitioning for probation, in which case the sentencing should have been in circuit court, where psir’s are regularly prepared and reviewed. Furthermore, this also almost never actually happens in these misdemeanor cases. Even with felonies in circuit court, this is mostly a formality. The biggest thing of substance that she could have done is to give the guy a larger sentence. How about some real jail time? How about a year in jail? 6 months? How about 30 days of real, actual, jail time? He would have deserved it. But it would have been extremely unusual for a magistrate to stray that far from the recommendations of the prosecutor. In fact, she already exceeded the prosecutor’s recommendation fourfold….
So if justice was not served in this situation, the Register-Herald can point their finger at the former prosecutor. But there is no sense in doing that, because he already lost his job, and that probably was partially due to this case. And nothing positive is served by rubbing salt in his wounds.
Despite the “slap on the wrist,” Mr. Watson suffered a punishment that is rarely given in misdemeanor offenses: major coverage and castigation in a prominent regional newspaper. Henceforth, any time someone googles his name, these articles will come up. It will be difficult for him to ever get past this time in his life… I don’t know about you, but I would rather do a stint in jail than have your darkest hours broadcasted to the surrounding 5 counties, to live in perpetual existence on the internet.
You can read the full editorial here.
- John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.
I have been asked many times recently what has happened with this case. Well, nothing has really happened since the sentencing has not yet taken place. The sentencing for these crooks will take place on June 30, 2008 before U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnston. There are also several civil cases currently pending in this matter, which undoubtedly will be detailed in the future.
You can read my previous post here.
– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.
As I detailed in a previous post, which can be found here, two Charleston cops, who were off-duty, were caught spotlighting and shooting a deer on W.Va. 34 near Liberty. Did they admit to their crime, apologize and beg the public for forgiveness? No, or course not, the law only applies to citizens, not cops, right? They claim they were ending the suffering of a poor injured deer. Even if that were true, and even if cops are allowed to do this, would it be proper to do it at night with a spotlight? In West Virginia, there are farmhouses all over the place. How could you be sure you wouldn’t kill some innocent person?
These cops are obviously lying, and nobody seems to care. Okay, assuming they shot this deer as part of their official duty, did they radio the dispatcher as to what they were doing? Were they even in their jurisdiction? Everyone knows thats a bunch of garbage. They committed an illegal act, then they got preferential treatment. The DNR officer even stated that “it was difficult to investigate two law enforcement officers….” Why in the world would it be difficult. If I was a cop and I became aware of two crooked cops using their badge and gun to break the law, I would get great enjoyment out of busting them and taking them to task. Heck, they are slandering your profession with their reckless disregard for the law and their utter hypocrisy.
So these cops got a plea deal. They were allowed to plead no contest and were given fines. Apparently the conspiracy charges were dropped as well. The Charleston Police Chief is apparently struggling with what, if any, discipline these officers should suffer with respect to their jobs. Hello…. what about the fact that these cops are lying through their teeth while pleading no contest at the same time? How many poor saps have been convicted based on the testimony of these two cops? I say, let’s reopen all of those cases, because these two guys are liars. Despite this, nobody wants to face the fact that cops lie on the stand, under oath, every single day. Why? Who knows and who cares. They have a variety of reasons, not limited to covering up their own wrongdoings.
The fact is though, that these two cops are lying and it is obvious. The cover-up is worse than the original crime. So they spotlighted deer… in the grand scheme of things it is no big deal. Nobody is perfect, we have all done things that are illegal at one point in our lives. They should have apologized and asked for forgiveness.
These two are hypocrites and liars, period.
You can read the entire article here.
– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.
From the Bluefield Daily Telegraph:
A Bluefield man facing first-degree murder in the 2007 shooting death of a another Bluefield resident entered into a plea agreement Tuesday in Mercer County Circuit Court.
Ronald Jerome Finney, Sr., also known as R.J., 53, pleaded guilty before Judge Derek Swope to a felony charge of voluntary manslaughter. Finney was indicted in February on first-degree murder in the Oct. 31, 2007 shooting of Donald Lamont Greene, 32, of Bluefield. Greene died as the result of a gunshot wound to the chest.
Finney was apparently claiming that he fired in self defense, stating that he was in fear for his life. However, the situation stemmed from him attempting to purchase crack-cocaine – not exactly a “clean hands” position to be in. Furthermore, his story was pretty shaky. Finney said in his statement that he waited outside [the drug dealer's house], and that Greene later came up to him, threatened him, and “he acted like he had something in his pocket, so I just shot him,” adding that he fired a second time when Greene “then tried to get something out.”
Finney must have been pretty believable though, because prosecutors gave him a pretty good deal – voluntary manslaughter – only carrying a determinate sentence of 3 to 10 years (compared with life for first degree murder, or up to 40 years for second degree murder). This was well-worth accepting in lieu of taking a chance with the jury and possibly facing life in prison.
You can read the full article here.
– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.
From the Charleston Daily Mail:
A Montcalm High School teacher accused of having a relationship with a student faces sexual abuse and abduction charges.
State Police First Sgt. Gary Tincher says 30-year-old Christi Lee Williams was arrested in late April.
Williams remains free on bond after being charged with sexual abuse by a parent, custodian and guardian and abduction of a student within 1,000 feet of a school.
Tincher says Williams is accused of having a relationship with a 16-year-old male student who allegedly left school property with her.
Tincher says the teacher has been suspended from her job.
What is the deal with young, attractive teachers across the country having these sexual relationships with young boys? I can’t remember hearing anything like this when I was in high school – other than in a Van Halen song.
Let’s look at the charges: First, abduction of a student within 1,000 feet of a school. Okay, that charge is garbage. The kid was 16 – old enough to drive, and actually 16 is the age of consent. The allegations are that he went willingly. Prosecutors and legislators can make up whatever law and charges they want, but the fact is that there was no abduction. This is just a garbage charge to help them get a plea.
Secondly, sexual abuse by a parent guardian or custodian. This is the most abused and misused charge on the books. The reason is this: in almost every situation, like it or not, the legal age of consent in West Virginia is 16 years old. That means that ignoring relationships, this 16 year old kid can have sexual relations with whomever he wants. However, if there is a relationship, then all of a sudden the other party goes to prison for 10 to 20 years. That’s right, that is the punishment for this charge (something that you are not allowed to tell the jury). So, if the prosecutor alleges the other party is a babysitter, teacher, whatever – even if the kid is 16 or 17 and has his own car and drives all over the place, it then becomes punishable by 10 to 20 years. This is an abuse of the law. The charge was meant to cover awful situations where parents or actual guardians abuse children under their care. The problem is that the statute was written much to broadly, thus allowing police and prosectors to abuse it. For instance, this woman is facing 10 to 20 on that charge. Under the statute, technically, she can be convicted on it. The jury never gets to know that she will get 10 to 20. They will assume she will get probation, or maybe 6 months or a year. She will get convicted on the charge, despite the unfairness of it. The end result is, that her lawyer will most likely advise her not to take the chance of going to trial, and to accept the plea offer of misdemeanor battery with a sexual motivation, or something like that, which will put her in jail for a year and make her a registered sex offender for life.
Read the full article here.
– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.
From the Charleston Gazette today:
Yesterday Saad Kamil Deeb, a Welch Pharmacist, pled guilty to a 3 count information, charging him with enlisting others to help him conduct transactions at a McDowell County bank so that he could move large amounts of money without triggering a Currency Transaction Report. A financial institution is required to file such a report with the Internal Revenue Service for any transaction over $10,000.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hunter Smith said that between 2001 and 2005, Deeb became heavily involved in gambling on sports, betting large sums of money and even placing bets on behalf of his friends.
Whether he won or lost, his gambling proceeds or debts were paid in cash, Smith said. Usually, the amounts would approach $100,000 before Deeb or his bookies paid up, he said. “Mr. Deeb did not want the IRS to know that he was engaged in large cash transactions,” Smith said. So he and the others would keep their transactions under the $10,000 ceiling, Smith said, sometimes transferring just under that amount to various accounts several days in a row. According to the information, Deeb and his associates moved more than $871,000 that way over a four-year period. Deeb also admitted skimming cash from the pharmacy and filing false tax returns in 2003 and 2004, failing to report roughly $300,000 in income for each year, resulting in a tax loss of $175,000. Deeb has since filed amended reports and caught up on the taxes he owes, Smith said.
Who knew that a small town pharmacy could make that much so as to skim $300,000 per year for a gambling habit (addiction)? It makes you wonder who is at fault for the high prices of prescription drugs… My grandfather was a small town pharmacist, and for part of my life I grew up in his pharmacy. Things must have changed a lot since then… or maybe that is just par for the course in McDowell County….
– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.
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