U.S. Judge Kristi Dubose tossed out three of the eight counts against Bayou la Batre Mayor Stan Wright after the prosecution rested in the fourth day of his federal corruption trial.
Dubose determined prosecutors did not sufficiently prove Wright laundered the $27,300 his daughter, Mary Cook, incrementally deposited into his account after she sold a piece of his former property to the city, which used federal funds to buy. However, Wright still faces charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, theft, witness retaliation and intimidation.
In tossing out the laundering charges, Dubose said there was no evidence the defendant's bank account was "enhanced" as a result of his actions. Last year, Dubose threw out similar charges against Cook, presumably for the same reason.
The prosecution disagreed, basing the charge on what they call the "taxpayer based solution," a theory that Wright devised the land sale scheme to pay for a mortgage debt Cook incurred following a divorce. Specifically, evidence showed Wright and his wife Robin withdrew money from their personal accounts to pay the debt, and once Cook sold the property, she repaid them with the proceeds.
For a moment Dubose also considered throwing out the theft charge, reasoning that because the city (i.e. FEMA) received something for its money (the land), there was no theft. But prosecutors reminded the judge of the property's inflated price. Cook and Wright received $27,249 for land later appraised at only $5,500.
The fourth day of testimony dealt mainly with the charges of witness retaliation against former police Capt. Darryl Wilson. Wilson finished his testimony Feb. 27, but the prosecution called up fellow officers who were occasionally involved in Wright and Wilsonâs exchanges, which began in early 2011.
In January 2011, Wilson said, he cooperated with two FBI special agents who questioned him about misuse of BP and Katrina Funds, which were federal dollars. Wilson said he had two meetings with the agents. Shortly after the second meeting, he received a letter at his house from Wright, which removed him from working with the Drug Enforcement Agency or any other federal agency. Wright said in the letter that Wilson was to be on general patrol duty and not to work with any federal agency.
WITNESS JOHN JOYNER
Two former Bayou La Batre Police Department officers testified to their first-hand accounts involving Wright talking about and his treatment of Wilson. Former BLB Police Chief John Joyner, who retired in November 2011, said Wilson was "probably one of the bestâ investigative officers he had ever known and he had never had a problem with the captain. Wilsonâs skills helped the entire department, Joyner said.
"Through (Wilsonâs) work with the DEA, he was able to bring down burglaries and violent crimes in Bayou La Batre, because 80 percent of all the crime there is related to drugs,â he said. "He also seized cars through those cases so Bayou La Batre Police Department was able to receive vehicles.
"His work with the drug task force funded the police department. We wouldnât have been able to afford cars from just the general fund.â
Joyner said he wasnât consulted by Wright when Wilson was prohibited from working with federal agencies nor was he consulted when Wilson was demoted to patrol duty. The former chief said Wright had never before reassigned an officer.
After Joyner returned from medical leave, he talked with Wright on March 21, 2011, about Wilson.
"(Wright) told me Capt. Wilson was after him,â he said. "He said he had started an investigation about him with the FBI. He said he had sources in the FBI that told him and they were reliable. He said he had to get Wilson out of here.â
Joyner went on to say he retired shortly after Wrightâs actions toward Wilson and after he had been "stripped of authorityâ when he didnât support the mayorâs actions. Previously, Wright created the position of "public safety directorâ in the city to hire an employee with more authority than the police chief.
"I wasnât going to be a part of what he was going to do,â he said.
Joyner testified he planned on working up to another 10 years before retiring.
WITNESS JASON EDWARDS
Jason Edwards, who was a sergeant with the Bayou La Batre Police Department, also said the mayor turned on him when he wouldnât carry out his requests against Wilson.
Wright made Edwards acting chief of police when Wilson and Joyner were out on medical leave simultaneously. Edwards initially denied the promotion because there were several other officers above him, but took it when Wright said he would never receive another chance if he turned it down.
Just a few hours later, he was told to demand Wilson turn over his city vehicle, an Infinity SUV, or be arrested for theft. The city had no take-home vehicle policy and Edwards testified that to his knowledge, had never confiscated an officerâs vehicle. Edwards refused.
"I didnât arrest him because first, he was my captain and second because no crime had been committed,â he said.
Things became worse for Edwards after that, he said. After refusing to arrest Wilson, Wright told Edwards to write down the events of that day. Edwards told the mayor he didnât feel comfortable with his request. Shortly after that, he was accused of stealing money from the departmentâs evidence room, a charge Edwards denies.
"I was asked by Stanley Wright to write a statement, but I didnât feel comfortable. He told me to âpick a side,ââ he said. "The same day was when I was accused of stealing money.â
Edwards resigned from the department when he was accused of the theft, he testified. That case is pending, and defense attorney Authur Madden suggested he had reached a deal with prosecutors to testify against Wright. Edwards admitted federal prosecutors had offered to "assistâ with the case if he "told the truthâ about Wright, but said there was no written agreement for his cooperation.
WITNESS JOSEPH WOLFE
Mobile Police Sgt. Joseph Wolfe worked with Wilson in several Drug Enforcement Agency cases. The two menâs overtime working with the DEA was reimbursed by The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) and meant an average of about $10,000 of extra income for Wilson annually.
Wolfe testified Wilson was in the middle of preparing for an OCDETF trial when Wright pulled him from working with federal agencies.
"We were getting ready for trial in relation to one of the cases we were working when I was told Darryl wouldnât be working federal cases anymore,â Wolfe said.
The then-Assistant Special Agent in Charge Gregory Borland wrote a letter to Wright in which he said he respected the mayorâs request and would relieve Wilson of any duties. In the letter, Borland said the case Wilson was working on, which was nicknamed Toxic, was going to trial and Wilson was "probably done with the work.â
But Wolfe testified that Wilson was actually not done and that they were in the process of starting a spin-off case.
"(Borland) did not consult me,â said Wolfe, who was in charge of the Toxic case. "Darryl was basically a co-case agent on (Toxic).â
The prosecution asked Wolfe about Wilsonâs investigation for Toxic specifically in Bayou La Batre. Wilson proved to be a valuable asset, Wolfe said, because he knew everyone in the city.
"Thatâs why I wanted Darryl on the cases for that area. He knew all of the people and I didnât know any of them,â he said. "He knew when they would be getting together and where they would be meeting.â
WITNESS MICHAEL GOODEN
Bayou la Batre Police Cpl. Michael Gooden said immediately after Chief Joyner told his patrol officers he was resigning, he drove over to Wrightâs house to "express his griefâ with the situation.
"I spoke to the mayor and he briefly explained to me why we needed a public safety director, because Chief Joyner let the department get out of control,â Gooden testified.
Gooden asked Wright to elaborate and he did so freely, he testified.
"He said Darryl Wilson was the most disloyal employee he ever had,â Gooden said. "He also told me, âdonât worry, Iâm one step ahead of the FBI on this one.ââ
WITNESS TOBY WILKERSON
As a special agent with the Department of Homeland Securityâs Immigration and Customs Enforcement division, Toby Wilkerson also worked with Wilson on federal cases in Bayou la Batre. Wilkerson testified about a particularly notable case in which Wilson helped him place a GPS tracking unit on a sailboat that was kept in a Bayou la Batre drydock, and kept an eye on its departures and arrivals.
The DHS suspected the boat was being used to ferry marijuana from Jamaica. Wilsonâs work proved invaluable when before returning to the Bayou on one trip, agents notice the boat divert toward New Orleans. Officials intercepted the boat at sea and found 4,500 pounds of marijuana in the hold.
Wilkerson said afterward, his department was investigating an overseas gambling case with Wilson when he learned the officer had been pulled from federal task forces.
"Darryl was the only source I had in Bayou la Batre and it was my understanding he got a letter from the mayor saying he couldnât work with federal agents,â Wilkerson said.
WITNESS MATTHEW WINSTON
The prosecutionâs final witness, former Bayou la Batre Police Officer Matthew Winston, offered the most explicit testimony regarding Wrightâs intentions toward Wilson. Winston, who had resigned to pursue a more lucrative construction career, was remodeling a house of Wrightâs when he decided to ask about Wrightâs motivation.
"That motherf*cker told the FBI me and Janey was crooked, that we were taking money,â Wright allegedly told Winston. "Thatâs why heâs on patrol and thatâs why he driving that raggedy ass car and heâs going to stay in it.â
DEFENSE WITNESS MISTY GRAY
Misty Gray, attorney for the city of Bayou la Batre, prepared the dual deeds for the land transaction between Stan Wright and his daughter Mary Cook. She had no specific memory of who asked her to or why she prepared two separate deeds in three days. She also wasnât told Cook was going to sell the property to the city until the night the city bought it.
Gray testified she OKâd the transaction as long as Wright publicly disclosed it and abstained from the vote on its purchase. The court once again heard audio from the Nov. 15, 2007 City Council Work session in which, the evidence has shown, Wright publicly acknowledged his role in the transaction for the first and last time.
Gray said it was typical and legal for the city to include multiple purchases or expenditures in lump-sum "draw-downs,â which were requests for reimbursement from the federal government. Cookâs $27,249 land sale was lumped in with $524,673 total expenditures.
DEFENSE WITNESS DOUG ANDERSON
Doug Anderson, an attorney with more than 30 years experience, was called as a real estate law expert. Anderson explained why Wright may have sold his entire parcel for right-of-way acquisition, while neighboring parcels were acquired on an as-needed basis. Defense attorney Madden had twice previously invoked the term "uneconomic remnantâ to describe what would have been left of Wrightâs property, if the Safe Harbor development would have only acquired the right-of-way.
"An uneconomic remnant cannot be built on or cannot be used,â Anderson said. It is a partial acquisition that is "in effect a full taking, and developers have to pay fair market value.â
Neither the defense or the prosecution has explained why Cook was paid $3 per square foot, when fair market value was determined to be around 61 cents per square foot. Anderson, however, suggested it was because a since-deceased "land manâ who was shadowing the engineer developing the property, was trying to buy it for the price it would cost to avoid drawn-out condemnation proceedings.
The defense has indicated it will rest March 1. With the three money laundering charges thrown out, Wright still faces more than 50 years in prison if convicted and sentenced under maximum guidelines. However his co-defendant in the case, Janey Galbraith, reported to jail yesterday for a three-month sentence imposed by Judge Dubose.