Cecil McCrory filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea to conspiracy to commit money laundering yesterday in U.S. District Court. McCrory worked with Chris Epps to shake down MDOC vendors for bribes and kickbacks. McCrory would act as the middleman and pay off Mr. Epps when he was MDOC Commissioner. McCrory alleged that he was innocent of the charges and poorly represented by his lawyer, Don Leland. McCrory also charged that then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst "manipulated" his case for his upcoming run for Mississippi Attorney General. McCrory is now represented by Carlos Tanner.
A federal grand jury indicted McCrory on 15 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, bribery, money laundering, and tax evasion in 2014. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering on February 25, 2015. Mr. Tanner argues that his client received 70 cds of discovery material only 80 days before the guilty plea and thus did not have time to properly review them. Earlier post on guilty plea.
|Cecil McCrory at February 25, 2015 hearing|
The lawyer who represented Mr. McCrory during the investigative and plea stages of this case did not closely assist Mr. McCrory in a number of ways. First, Mr. McCrory’s first lawyer failed to protect his interests by granting the FBI unrestrained access to Mr. McCrory in that the prior lawyer repeatedly permitted law enforcement agents to converse with Mr. McCrory outside that lawyer’s presence. Next, the prior attorney failed to negotiate the outcome of Mr. McCrory’s case before letting him engage in extensive cooperation with the Government. That attorney also advised his client to plead guilty without having reviewed the enormous amount of discovery in this case. Lastly, that attorney allowed Attorney Mike Hurst, the then-Assistant United States Attorney (“AUSA”) who was assigned to handle this case, to put unfair and undue pressure on Mr. McCrory to get him to plead guilty. (Exhibit “C”).
However, Mr. Tanner tries to make nice with Mr. Leland a few paragraphs later:
Mr. McCrory’s prior counsel is a fine gentleman and an outstanding, highly reputable lawyer in his usual areas of practice. In the instant case, however, that attorney did not provide Mr. McCrory adequate assistance of counsel in several respects. This is one of the most extensive, complex cases the Southern District of Mississippi has prosecuted in many years. Defending so-called federal white-collar criminal cases of this magnitude is an endeavor that usually requires delving into thousands of pages of financial records to determine whether those records verify or refute what the Government claims those cases are about.
The motion also provides more information on McCrory's cooperation with the FBI:
After he hired his first lawyer, Mr. McCrory cooperated with the FBI and other Government agents and engaged in a number of debriefing conversations with federal law enforcement personnel. Those interrogations occurred sometimes with his lawyer present and at other times without his lawyer being present. The fact that Mr. McCrory was permitted by his then-lawyer to engage in conversations with FBI agents outside his lawyer’ presence is beyond absurd, particularly in the absence of some sort of immunity or non-prosecution agreement.
Mr. Tanner then tries to put the blame on Hurst and his, are you ready for this?, run for Attorney General. Read it for yourself:
Mr. McCrory concedes that the law permits prosecutors to drive hard bargains to defendants in criminal cases. Mr. McCrory does not complain in this filing, though, of that sort of legally-permissible, tough, negotiation tactic on the part of the Government. Here, he argues that Attorney Hurst’s actions on behalf of the Government in exacting aplea out of Mr. McCrory far exceed anything courts, defendants, or the public should reasonably expect out of the Department of Justice. That is, Attorney Hurst improperly suggested to Mr. McCrory that this Court—not Attorney Hurst himself—had to have the plea on February 25, 2015, a date that was conveniently less than forty-eight hours before the statutory deadline requiring Attorney Hurst to file for, and publicly announce, his candidacy to run for Attorney General of the State of Mississippi. Attorney Hurst rushed Mr. McCrory and coerced the subject guilty plea out of him by misleading him and his then-lawyer into believing that the only time this Court would take a plea from him was on February 25, 2015. Simply put, Attorney Hurst hoodwinked Mr. McCrory into believing that this Court was requiring him to plead to one of the fifteen counts the Indictment accused him of committing on February 25, 2015, or forfeit all of his extensive cooperation and go to trial on all the counts with which he was charged in the Indictment. That put undue pressure on Mr. McCrory that made him capitulate and plead guilty to a crime he avers he did not commit.
Again, the timing of the plea and what Attorney Hurst did to arrange that plea shows that politics, rather than justice, dictated certain aspects of this case. On February 27, 2015, less than forty-eight hours after the subject guilty pleas of Mr. McCrory and his co-defendant, Attorney Mike Hurst, the then-Assistant United States Attorney who was assigned to handle this case, resigned from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi and that same day filed qualifying papers to run for Attorney General of the State of Mississippi. February 27, 2015, was the qualifying deadline for that race. That is, if Attorney Hurst had not submitted his registration paperwork by that date, he would have been barred from running for that office...
Thus, the Government, namely Attorney Mike Hurst, improperly handled this case in a manner that was motivated by politics and the need to generate fodder for his then-upcoming election campaign. Even though he knew his statements were not entirely accurate, Attorney Hurst wrongfully leveraged the power and authority of this Court by telling Mr. McCrory that this Court could only do his plea on February 25, 2015, a day and time that was calculated to propel Attorney Hurst’ upcoming “public corruption” campaign platform that he would tout to try to win his Attorney General’s race. Attorney Hurst’s manipulation of the rushed deadlines in this case as a political play, along with Mr. McCrory’s claim of innocence of the charge to which he pleaded guilty, is a fair and just reason for permitting Mr. McCrory to withdraw his plea to Count 23 of the Indictment and go to trial.Mr. Hurst told the Clarion-Ledger yesterday:
Cecil McCrory broke the law and he confessed to one of the biggest corruption cases in our state's history. We followed the same procedure we always follow," Hurst said. "Frankly, we gave him a very generous offer of pleading to only one count of 15 total counts. He plead guilty seven months after indictment and almost three months after receiving the discovery and a month before the trial was supposed to begin. The allegations that anything was done out of ordinary in this case are just false."
"He had a right to go to trial on all the counts or plead on all the counts. . There was absolutely no politics involved; and only the interest of justice was concerned. It's sad when a convicted felon — like this— refuses to accept responsibility and tries to blame others for his crime," said Hurst, who is now director of Justice Institute, the legal arm of Mississippi Center for Public Policy.
The defendant further argues that his plea was coerced and not voluntary.