The U.S. attorney’s office in Little Rock today asked that former Judge Mike Maggio of Conway get the maximum 10-year sentence for pleading guilty to taking a bribe to influence his reduction of a verdict in a nursing home negligence case from $5.2 million to $1 million.
The government filing responded to a plea for leniency yesterday from Maggio, for as little as probation given the punishment he’s already suffered, ill health and other factors. The government wasn’t impressed:
The nature and circumstances of this offense are repulsive. In essence, Maggio sold a verdict as a means to obtain a higher judicial office. He breached the bond of trust that voters in Faulkner, Van Buren, and Searcy counties bestowed upon him. He breached the trust of the plaintiffs who put their faith in the legal system to justly resolve their dispute with the nursing home. This conduct seriously undermines the public’s trust and confidence in its public officials, and undermines the integrity of our judicial system. The seriousness of his conduct warrants the imposition of a term of imprisonment consistent with the seriousness of his offense.
With respect to Maggio’s own history and characteristics, Maggio argues that his good deeds and history of public service as a judge warrant a probationary sentence. Maggio’s racist, sexist, sexual, vulgar, and indeed bullying comments, all made during his service as a judge, should also be considered along with his Sentencing Memo’s litany of alleged good deeds.
Concluded the government:
When considering the seriousness of Maggio’s corruption and the damaging impact that his acceptance of a bribe has on public faith in the judiciary, the United States respectfully submits that Maggio’s offense warrants a guideline sentence of imprisonment of 120 months.
Maggio pleaded to taking campaign contributions to reduce the verdict. The contributions were arranged by former Sen. Gilbert Baker and came from Michael Morton, a nursing home owner whose home was on the losing end of the verdict Maggio reduced. But neither has been charged and both deny wrongdoing.
Maggio entered a plea bargain, then tried to get out of it. The government has said Maggio hasn’t been sufficiently cooperative. The government also flatly disputes Maggio’s assertion that he had been promised probation for sufficient cooperation.
This is false. The United States has never, in court or otherwise, stated that it would not oppose probation. To the contrary, from the outset, the United States represented to Maggio that a sentence of incarceration was the appropriate consequence for this crime.
Sentencing before Judge Brian Miller is set Thursday.
The government filing said the probation office recommendation of a 120-month sentence was proper because it reflected Maggio’s breach of the plea agreement, the government said. His sentence is enhanced as a public official who give large benefit to others and impeded justice by testifying falsely to the Arkansas Ethics Commission and by deleting text messages from his phone. It also said he hadn’t accepted responsibility for his actions.
The government specifically said Maggio had been untruthful about communications with “Individual B,” or Baker, about “Individual A,” or Morton.
Immediately after the polygraph, Maggio revealed that his communications with Individual B were far more detailed than he had previously disclosed to the United States. The materiality of those details was substantial. Maggio revealed that Individual B told him that Individual A was following the case and would be appreciative of Maggio making the right decision. This is significant because previously Maggio admitted that he and Individual B discussed the case and the campaign, but failed to disclose content of the conversations at this level of detail. Maggio also revealed that Individual B told Maggio that Individual A’s contributions to Maggio would have to be handled differently than Individual A’s contributions to other candidates. This is significant because the evidence shows that Individual A’s money was funneled to Maggio’s campaign through the use of PACs orchestrated by Individual B and through straw donations. Maggio further revealed that sometime between November 2013 and January 2014, Maggio approached Individual B to ask where the rest of the promised $50,000 was, since Maggio had only received $25,000. This is significant because the evidence shows that in November and December 2013, Individual B was urgently seeking PAC funds for Maggio, and orchestrated straw donations.
Maggio stopped meeting with the government after it began delving into discrepancies in his statements.
In seeking a lesser sentence, Maggio objected to a pre-sentence report statement that said he understood he’d receive financial support for “tough calls” on the bench. This is a direct quote from an admission he gave under oath. Maggio also said, “There was never any agreement by anyone regarding a ruling that would be favorable to any party.” But, said the government, “This assertion flies in the face of all of the proof, including but not limited to Maggio’s under oath admissions and his post-polygraph interview. It also provides an excellent example why Maggio, if he continues on this path of false denial, does not qualify for a reduction for acceptance of responsibility …”
The government also asked the court to consider Maggio responsible for restitution of the $4.2 million reduction in the nursing home trial verdict.
Maggio may claim the verdict was excessive, but the fact remains that a jury determined the losses by a preponderance of the evidence. The fact that Maggio was only promised a small donation in exchange for reducing the jury award does not mitigate Maggio’s conduct, but rather aggravates it.
A civil lawsuit continues on the case, with Baker and Morton as defendants. Maggio has been dismissed as a defendant because of an immunity enjoyed by a judge for official actions.
… the fact that he may have been able to escape the consequences from his actions because of civil immunity from lawsuits does not insulate him from criminal restitution.
The pleading continues:
The United States submits that Maggio’s “I stole it, but it wasn’t worth that much anyway” speculation regarding the value of the pain and suffering of the decedent has no place in this criminal litigation. The jurors in the civil matter, after hearing all the testimony and reviewing the evidence, awarded damages in the amount of $4.2 million. Therefore, the Court should award restitution in the amount of $4.2 million to the plaintiffs in the Martha Bull litigation.
To support its claim of obstruction of justice, the government quotes extensively from Maggio’s false testimony before the Ethics Commission, in which he said the suspicious PAC contributions he received at the time of the jury verdict were an “unfortunate coincidence” and that he had no expectation he’d receive any nursing home money. He also destroyed evidence, the pleading said.
During this time period, MAGGIO’s communications with Individual B were about the campaign or the litigation. In March 2014, when Individual A’s contributions to the PACs became publicly known, MAGGIO talked with another person about deleting text messages between MAGGIO and Individual B. That person also suggested MAGGIO delete text messages between MAGGIO and that person. MAGGIO then deleted these text messages.
In other points, the government said it was false that the loss of a judgeship amounted to punishment for this crime. That stemmed from a separate ethics complaint, over injudicious remarks under a pseudonym on an LSU fan website. He also revealed confidential information about Charlize Theron’s adoption of a child in Faulkner County.
Maggio’s self-destruction of his judicial career was complete before the criminal case began. It is disingenuous for Maggio to claim that his punishment in this case should somehow be lessened because he has already been sanctioned for unrelated behavior by removal from judicial office.
The government also dismissed his claim that health problems argued for a reduced sentence.
Most significantly, as reflected by Maggio’s conduct while on bond and throughout his life as a lawyer and judge, nothing about his condition prevents his ability to function. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) regularly houses inmates with medical and psychiatric conditions. If committed to BOP custody, Maggio’s condition can be reviewed by the Office of Medical Designations and he will be assigned to an institution capable of treating his condition, be it a dedicated medical center or some other facility.