WV Civil Rights Lawyer

Police Misconduct, Civil Rights Law

God, it feels good.

I haven’t posted in a good while.  The reason was that I had been preparing for a particularly contentious criminal jury trial.

I am happy to announce that this afternoon, after three days of trial, we finished closing arguments on the case, and the jury came back with two unanimous verdicts of not guilty.  It was probably the most emotionally difficult case I have ever struggled with.

The best part about it was, during my closing argument, I asked the jury, when they went into the jury room to begin deliberations, to pick a foreperson, sit down, and take a vote on whether there was any reasonable doubt.  If all hands were up, I asked them to come right back out and deliver a verdict of not guilty.

Apparently that is what they did.  They may have deliberated 10-15 minutes.  God, what a feeling.  It felt so good.  I don’t think I have ever wanted to win so bad.  And I don’t think I have ever put so much time, effort, and passion into anything.

My client was charged with first degree arson and conspiracy, both felonies, with a sentence of 3 to 25 years.  He had always maintained that he was innocent, and damn it felt so good to deliver him back to his family a free man.  He is a good guy, and his family had suffered through such a nightmare with the prosecution and accusations.  There’s nothing like standing before 12 jurors with somebody’s life and destiny in your hands.  It’s the worst time and it’s the best time.  Fighting [in the courtroom] for money is one thing.  But fighting for someone’s liberty – someone’s child, someone’s father – with their life in your hands….. there’s nothing like it.  God, it feels good.

– John H. Bryan

December 17, 2009 Posted by | Arson, Conspiracy, John H. Bryan, Trials | 6 Comments

BREAKING NEWS: “Cattlegate Cons” Sentenced

[Note: at the polite request of innocent family members, I replaced the name of the least culpable defendant with ****.]

Surprisingly, it appears that I am the first to break this story – that the “Cattlegate Cons” were sentenced this morning by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas E. Johnston as follows:

O’Brien was sentenced to 97 months of active incarceration and 3.4 million dollars in restitution.

Henthorn was sentenced to 9 months of incarceration and a $75,000 fine.

***** was sentence to 5 months of incarceration and a $50,000 fine.

UPDATE: Apparently now there is a Charleston Gazette article confirming this now online.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Register-Herald has now published a lengthy article on the sentencing yesterday.  Reporter Christian Giggenbach noted in the article that Judge Johnston made some interesting observations about the case during the sentencing hearing.

Johnston also railed on Henthorn, 46, of Lewisburg, for abusing his position of trust in the banking community. He also insinuated this was probably not the only illegal act Henthorn had committed.

“You were living a privileged life and you threw that away,” Johnston said. “This is an example of what can happen when you allow greed to overcome you.”

Henthorn also apparently attempted to get his probation officer to remove negative letters that were going to the judge.

Former FNB board member James C. Justice II of Beckley was among family and church members who wrote letters in support of Henthorn. One document filed by a court official indicated the defendant called his probation officer on June 4 and asked her if “she would remove the negative” letters from his support file.

“The probation officer responded she would not do so … Mr. Henthorn was obviously upset by this answer and ended the conversation soon thereafter,” wrote U.S probation officer Peggy Adams.

Can you believe the arrogance of this guy?  Judge Johnston also questioned why First National Bank of Ronceverte was suspiciously absent from this entire ordeal – despite the fact that their President and Board members caused this whole mess.  According to the article:

Johnston also asked a rhetorical question about Henthorn’s former employers.

“I’m puzzled by the fact that First National Bank has not participated at all in this hearing,” the judge said. “I expect the whole story has yet to be told.”

However, there was a former board member and one former president of First National Bank there supporting Henthorn and *****, respectively (see Justice above).  According to the article:

****** had about 15 friends and family members present for the hearing, including former state Commerce Secretary and ex-FNB president Tom Bulla, who Johnston vocally noted had come to support ******. Johnston said individuals filed more than 100 letters of support for ******, “the most I’ve ever seen in a case.”

So, “FNB” was not completely absent, they were represented by former officials – who were there to ask the judge to be lenient.  I would note that one of those former officials himself resigned from the board only shortly before ***** and Henthorn themselves resigned from “FNB,” which was reported publicly, but not explained.  Don’t you just love banks?  Their only motivation is money, and even when their hands are publicly caught in the cookie-jar, they can just switch presidents and board members, and continue on foreclosing on people’s homes who do not have connections to the Board, and making sweetheart loans to crooks like O’Brien, who do have connections to the Board.  For too long citizens have been abused by bank boards using their positions to help their buddies and harm innocent folks.  A bank would slit your throat if they thought they could make a buck.  And lawyers get a bad name….  

To *****, Judge Johnston had this to say:

“You participated in a sorry effort to cover this up … which almost resulted in an obstruction charge,” Johnston said. 

“Is this the way business is done in Greenbrier County? By being present when a bribe is slid across the table to a bank president?

Johnston then asked why ***** would have risked so much by setting up the bribes, but then not receive any money in return. Johnston also suggested this was not ***** first brush with illegal activity. Forbes told the court ***** turned down bribe money when approached by O’Brien.

“Why would a man of your experience get involved with this?” Johnston asked.

Lastly, the Register-Herald article noted that the case is still being investigated, and that the defendants will most likely enter prison within the next 30 to 45 days.  It will be interesting to see whether Judge Johnston is right that “the whole story has yet to be told….”

Note: There also is a new Charleston Gazette article this morning.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

October 17, 2008 Posted by | Cattlegate, Civil Liability, Conspiracy, Corruption, Fraud, Sentencing, White Collar Crime | 3 Comments

Greenbrier County’s “Cattlegate” not typical fraud case?

Regarding the Greenbrier County “Cattlegate” case, the Register-Herald published an article this morning detailing defendant Kevin O’Brien’s presentencing memorandum filed by his defense attorney, in which his attorney states that this was not a typical fraud case because “many of his victims’ losses were unintended.”

Since when are ponzi schemes and check kiting not typical? It sounds like every other “white-collar” federal fraud prosecution that hits the headlines. I guess the word to pay attention to is “many.” There were a lot of victims, some of which were obviously intended. When you “sell” some poor sap a herd of cows that either don’t exist, or that you have already sold to someone else, you darn well intend to cheat that person out of their investment. Of course there were others that he didn’t know about. When you cheat someone, you also cheat others who were depending on the person you cheated. Although you may not intend to directly cheat those people, it is absolutely foreseeable that others will be affected and harmed.

O’Brien’s attorney argues that he will never be able to operate the same type of scams again because of the media coverage surrounding the case.

“Because (his) criminal prosecution has received a tremendous amount of media coverage in his community, it is highly improbable that individuals will place the trust in him necessary to engage in the same criminal conduct upon his return to the community.”

Yeah, but what if he moves to Florida? I guarantee that nobody there has ever heard of him. He could change his name, or use a pseudonym – and Florida is the third largest cattle-producing state. He could go right back into business. He obviously has no qualms about running a scam. He probably only regrets getting caught. If ever in the future he things he can do something like this again and get away with it, do you think he will hesitate? People would have no idea about his prior prosecution. But maybe if he serves a long stretch in federal prison, his desire to be a free man will overwhelm his greedy criminal tendencies.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney

October 16, 2008 Posted by | Cattlegate, Conspiracy, Corruption, Fraud, White Collar Crime | Leave a comment

Update on Greenbrier County “Cattlegate” Cons

The Register-Herald published a rather lengthy and informative article about Greenbrier County’s “Cattlegate” scandal this morning. I have posted on this matter several times thus far, here, here, here, here and here, and I have noticed a lot of interest in this case from the sheer amount of search engine traffic directed to my site from searches about these individuals. I suppose that some people were relying on me to post an update to this matter since the sentencing was supposed to already have happened. But I really didn’t have any idea what was going on. But, I knew that Register-Herald reporter Christain Giggenbach was on top of it, so I need only wait until he published an article, which I knew he surely would – and this morning he did.

Apparently the sentencing was supposed to have taken place this morning, but it was continued, though there were no motions filed by either the prosecution or the defense. Well why was it continued? Apparently these angelic creatures have turned stool pigeons and are collaborating with authorities in investigating other individuals. But since all these canaries are proven liars, I’m not sure what their help is worth, and investigators better not give their words more than a micro-ounce of a grain of salt. The history books are full of tragedies which have occurred through the utilization of this type of snake-in-the-grass testimony. For example, see this post from Glen Graham at the Oklahoma Criminal Defense Blog.

The sentencings were continued to October 17 at 10:30 a.m. before U.S. District Court Judge Thomas E. Johnston in Beckley’s Federal Courthouse.

So what kind of sentences are they looking at? A lot of people have commented to me that this bunch is going to get away with probation, but that will not happen. They may however, get some type of home confinement, or mixed sentence. With respect to O’Brien, a presentencing memorandum filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney L. Anna Forbes recommended a prison sentence up to 10 years, but “indicated the defendant has provided more information about possible criminal conduct of others who may have filed claims in his multi-million dollar bankruptcy case.” Lastly, she writes to the Court that “a sentence within the advisory guildine range of 97 to 121 months of imprisonment is appropriate.” So fear not, even with his sleazy finger-pointing, he will be doing time.

With respect to Henthorn and *****, the AUSA recommended 6 to 12 months, while their lawyers are arguing for home confinement or a mixed-type of sentence – and they are apparently strenuously snitching as much as the feds will allow, in order to get what they want. Mind you, that all of these defendants already snitched on each other – one even reportedly wearing a wire in a conversation with the others.

I know that there are a lot of people out there, in Greenbrier County, Monroe County – and across the fruited plain – who want the Judge to stick it to them. The AUSA noted in her memorandum that:

“One of the victims is a single-mom with a couple children in college, another is a Virginia cattle farmer with a small farm who lost so much money and was so ashamed by his financial predicament that he could not, for a long time, bring himself to tell his wife about what the defendant had done,” Forbes wrote. “Many of the victims attempted to pursue claims in bankruptcy, a process that left some with unsatisfactory settlements, large legal fees and a sense, because of the perceived misconduct by other creditors, that they had not been treated fairly by the bankruptcy system.”

So this is a great group of guys. Real quality people, and I wish them luck on the 17th.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

September 25, 2008 Posted by | Cattlegate, Civil Liability, Conspiracy, Corruption, Judges, Prosecutors, Sentencing, White Collar Crime | Leave a comment

Debate Continues About Searching Lawyer’s Offices

A few days ago, I posted about an extremely troubling trend emerging whereby lawyer’s offices are being searched as part of a criminal investigation of their clients. Since then, Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice picked up the conversation with this post. He first noted mine and Bobby Frederick’s concerns, stating that:

My ilk will go on auto-pilot and pound the keyboard exclaiming how these searches, where the government comes in, seizes everything in sight and sorts it all out later when they can examine every file at its leisure. This blunderbuss approach has been condemned by South Caccalacca criminal defense lawyer Bobby Frederick and West Virginia criminal defense lawyer John Bryan, and their concerns are well-founded.

But he also argued that “when a lawyer gets too close to his clients, such that he becomes a party to their enterprise,” there is a legitimate reason to search for evidence. And in these situations, Greenfield argues that a mutually agreed upon “Special Master” should be appointed to conduct the first level of scrutiny. It seems to me that this is not a bad idea.

But it will never happen – not as long as you have prosecutors who are willing to go between judges to get their warrant, and not as long as you have gullible or malicious judges who grant the warrant without conferring with the first judge. And let’s not forget this is only legitimate in the scenarios Greenfield points out: where the lawyer has helped the client engage in wrongdoing. This absolutely should not apply in a Texas murder case where the prosecutor is merely fishing for evidence with no evidence of wrongdoing by the attorney.

Bobby Frederick, of the South Carolina Criminal Defense Blog, also noted that now “a federal judge in New Jersey is allowing prosecutors to review computer records seized from a criminal defense lawyer’s office, including the files of clients who were not targets of the search.”

Frederick also cited my game-leveling dream scenario where defense attorneys could do the same thing, and concluded that:

This practice, in any situation other than where there is probable cause that a defense attorney is himself engaging in criminal activity and the search is specific and focused so as not to violate attorney-client privilege, is an abuse of process.

And I think that is something we all agree on.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney

September 9, 2008 Posted by | Conspiracy, Corruption, Judges, Prosecutors | Leave a comment

Search Warrants for Attorneys’ Offices is Troubling Trend

Recently there have been a number of cases of search warrants being executed on Attorneys’ offices for the purpose of gathering evidence against a client/target of investigation. One such case was detailed by Bobby Frederick at the SC Criminal Law Blog here on August 23, where attorney George Argie’s office was raided by the feds seeking information/evidence on one of his clients. Frederick correctly notes that the appropriate method of obtaining information from an attorney’s files is through subpoena, in which case the attorney gets a chance to raise the attorney-client privilege before a judge.

On July 31, Frederick posted about the search warrant that was issued in Frisco Texas on attorney Keith Gore’s office, where State officials were seeking items and letters written from his client to his client’s wife. Thankfully, criminal defense lawyers in Texas came out in numbers in opposition to this Gestapo-like tactic.

Frederick recently added an update to that case, citing Grits and Tex Parte Blog, noting that the judge who signed that search warrant has now been recused from hearing the capitol murder case.

It is sickening to see that there are prosecutors out there who would go between different judges to get an illegal search warrant of an attorney’s office. If that is legal, then I would like to see a mechanism put in place whereby the lawyers of criminal defendants can obtain their own search warrants to be executed on prosecutor’s office. Say, for instance, that you know a certain prosecutor has a video tape that would exculpate your client. He refuses to hand it over, or to even acknowledge it. You could get a search warrant and have your private investigator execute the warrant and look for the tape. Yeah right. That’ll be the day. The sad fact is, that prosecutors are perfectly willing and able to abuse their power and not only will many judges not stop them, some of them apparently will help. I’m just glad I don’t practice in Collin County Texas.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

September 4, 2008 Posted by | Conspiracy, Corruption, Judges, Prosecutors | Leave a comment

West Virginia Doctors in Bed With Pharmaceutical Firms

There was an editorial featured back in the July 9, 2008 issue of the Charleston Gazette, entitled “Payola,” which reported the staggering fact that 111 pharmaceutical firms were forced to disclose that they “showered” 14,933 “gifts, grants or payments” on West Virginia physicians during the last half of 2007 – with some “payola” exceeding $50,000. In other words, many, many, doctors in West Virginia are being paid by the drug companies to prescribe high-priced brands of prescription drugs to their patients – without regard to the patients’ health and financial situation. The kicker is that the patient has no idea that their doctor is doing this – nobody except for the drug companies and the state board of medicine does.

This was the first disclosure of this type revealed under new West Virginia state reporting rules. However, the catch is that the state board of medicine has made the decision to hide the names of these doctors. The Gazette’s editorial board was arguing that these names should be made public. And I agree. However, “state medical groups” complained, leading to the state board’s refusal to release the names.

And the lawyers get a bad rap in West Virginia? This article was forwarded to me by my father, who is a physician, and who was formerly President of the Florida Medical Association – though I didn’t ask him his opinion about it. I can’t imagine a doctor taking cash and gifts from these pharmaceutical firms to the impediment of his or her patients, much less openly arguing to the state that names should not be released. It sounds to me like the state medical association needs some new leadership – not to mention some common sense. Whatever happened to the hippocratic oath?

This has happened in Florida as well. Awhile back, a doctor was arrested in a nightclub while wearing a superman costume and belligerently harassing women with a sub (sandwich) in the lower portion of his costume. As it turned out, this doctor, among others, were in the process of being wined-and-dined by pharmaceutical firms (in exchange for them prescribing their drugs to patients).

While all of this is going on, we, as consumers, are being perpetually blitzed by pharmaceutical commercials. People forget, or fail to realize, that even 5 years ago there practically was zero direct advertising to consumers by pharmaceutical firms. I think that any ethical doctor, who is taking their oath sincerely, will agree that this is not in the best interests of patient health.

The point is, that this is one of the reasons why people go outside the state of West Virginia for serious health care needs. It’s not the lawyers – it’s the doctors. I support doctors as much as anybody, but there are bad one’s and good one’s, and it seems that some bad one’s are currently in charge. That needs to change. There absolutely is no good reason for the state to withhold the names of doctors who accept bribes from pharmaceutical companies.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

July 30, 2008 Posted by | Conspiracy, Corruption, Drugs | Leave a comment

Greenbrier County “Cattlegate” Sentencing This Month

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.

June 11, 2008 Posted by | Cattlegate, Civil Liability, Conspiracy, Corruption, Embezzlement, Fraud, Plea Agreements, Sentencing | Leave a comment

Police Chief Has Wife Arrested By Buddy Law Enforcement Officer

This is a story that I will detail in a later post if need be, but it rises to the situation where the public should be informed of this massive abuse of authority.

A southern West Virginia Chief of Police, who is a big guy and also a military veteran, had his little wife arrested by a buddy law enforcement officer for “domestic assault,” taken into physical custody, after which she was able to bond out with a $5,000 cash bond. For those of you who don’t know, $5,000 is the average bond for felonies in southern West Virginia.

This police chief then filed for divorce and refused to drop the frivolous criminal charge against her unless she agreed to his terms for the divorce. This story is continuing and may be updated based on future actions taken by the law enforcement officer.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

June 5, 2008 Posted by | Civil Liability, Conspiracy, Corruption, Domestic Violence, Police, Police Misconduct | 2 Comments

Was a Crime Committed in the WVU Bresch Scandal?

From West Virginia Metro News website:

Regarding the recent controversy regarding the governor’s daughter and WVU, was a crime committed when the Bresch transcript was altered? Attorney Tom Payton with the Payton Law Firm, analyzed that very question. His take on the facts are that:

1) In at least one course that she did not actually complete, she was given a grade that “was simply pulled from thin air.”

2) The grade modification forms bear only the signature of Dean Sears and “[a]ppropriate faculty and division chairs were neither consulted nor asked to sign these forms.”

3) “[O]ver Dean Sears’ signatures rather than the requisite course instructors’ and department chair’s signatures (as required by WVU standard operating procedures), grade modification forms were prepared and filed to add to her transcript credit for (redacted) hours of (redacted) that the principals all knew that she had not taken.”

4) The amended transcript now reflects her completion of some courses that she did not in fact complete, and reflects a number of grades that she did not in fact earn.

He points to the pertinent criminal statute which could apply as West Virginia Code § 61-5-22, which provides that:

If any clerk of a court, or other public officer, fraudulently make a false entry, or erase, alter or destroy any record in his keeping and belonging to his office, … he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be confined in jail not more than one year and be fined not exceeding one thousand dollars; and, in addition thereto, he shall forfeit his office and be forever incapable of holding any office of honor, trust or profit in this State.

So as he sees it, given that Dean Sears signed the document, if he is a “public officer,” then the statute may apply to him. However, his analysis of the case law reveals that the statute probably would not apply to Dean Sears, and that the ultimate punishment for his in this matter is likely resignation. He does note though, that there is enough authority here to form an investigation, subpoenas, grand juries, etc.

Read the entire article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

May 9, 2008 Posted by | Conspiracy, Corruption, Fraud | Leave a comment