Former Sen. Jon Woods, serving an 18-year sentence for a bribery/kickback scheme, Monday filed a motion seeking dismissal of charges against him on account of information discovered since his trial
In a motion filed Monday in federal court in Fayetteville, Woods said his conviction should be thrown out because the government suppressed information that would have aided his defense. He was convicted on 15 counts of fraud related to kickbacks paid from state money channeled to Ecclesia College and a scheme involving a company set up by lobbyist Rusty Cranford.
Woods’ filing says, based on a letter from Hutchinson’s lawyer Tim Dudley to the Justice Department, that Hutchinson had said he vetted lobbyist Rusty Cranford’s hiring of Woods’ fiance Christina Mitchell, for a $70,000-a-year job with the Cranford’s company. Hutchinson reportedly said he’d made sure the hiring complied with ethical and legal guidelines. This would present Woods in a more favorable light than the appearance that the job was a quid pro quo for Woods’ legislative help.
Woods also said he had learned since his trial of work on the case by FBI agent Michael Lowe, a relevant point because Lowe had a conversation with another agent, Robert Cesario, about the time Cesario wiped a hard drive with information about the Woods case that could have included exculpatory information. Cesario’s actions led to his being excluded from the case, but an appeals court said the mishandling of the hard drive didn’t merit reversal of the conviction. Finally, Woods claims that Lowe “coerced” Hutchinson to reveal privileged attorney-client information that led to the investigation of Woods.
The brief in support of the motion said Woods’ attorneys didn’t know about Lowe’s involvement at the time of the trial. The information opens new avenues for investigation, the brief says.
A major focus of the argument is on the testimony about the hiring of Mitchell. Said the brief:
Both the conviction and length of the sentence are undermined by the failure of the government to disclose exculpatory information that Mitchell’s employment was properly vetted by someone without interest and that her pay was in accordance with her skills and experience.
The government might take a different view that Hutchinson was a disinterested party given his guilty plea to participating in a bribery scheme with Cranford.
The brief also continues Woods’ arguments about prosecutorial misconduct and contends the discovery of the letter by Hutchinson’s lawyer further illustrates this.
The FBI obtained menial leverage over Jeremy Hutchinson by virtue of his former, scorned companion who had possible information concerning his campaign contribution misdeeds. The FBI exploited that information to interrogate Hutchinson on a variety of topics hoping to score a lead on a high-profile subject, such as John Goodson [a lawyer for whom Hutchinson once worked who has not been charged in any investigation]. Hutchinson was repeatedly interrogated and pressured by the FBI to provide incriminating information even after Hutchinson said that what he knew was protected by the attorney-client privilege. Ultimately, Hutchinson provided information that he obtained from Rusty Cranford through attorney-client relationship from his role as counsel to Cranford and his business. This incriminating information related to Cranford potentially being bribed by Woods. This tactic of obtaining information by failing to respect the attorney-client relationship and attacking the privilege continued into the investigation into Woods specifically. The FBI worked with Micah Neal to covertly record conversations with Woods and then supply those conversations to the FBI.
Woods’ attorneys argue that the FBI used Neal, a former Republican state representative who was the first to turn government witness, to get attorney-client information from Woods. They suggest the destruction of the hard drive could have been related to covering up this line of inquiry. Cesario has said he wiped the hard drive because it contained his personal information. The lawyers contend Neal was an agent of the government in eliciting information from Woods and thus his inquiries to Woods about attorney-client matters were improper.
Woods wants a hearing on the motion for dismissal of the charges. At the hearing, he’d seek the ability to discover more information on the points he’s raised.
The filings Monday include a motion to seal the letter from Hutchinson’s attorney to U.S. attorneys because it contains privileged communication unrelated to Woods’ motion.
Woods reported to federal prison in September 2018 for his 220-month sentence. The last appeal of his conviction was denied in December. He’s being held in a low-security federal prison in Bastrop, Texas.