Mark Shelnutt says feds misled him during investigation

Indicted defense attorney accuses officers, officials of trying to stop him from becoming a judge

ariquelmy@ledger-enquirer.comJune 25, 2009 

Columbus attorney Mark Shelnutt wants statements he made to federal prosecutors suppressed, claiming he was misled in February 2008 about whether he was under federal investigation.

That request, which was made in a Tuesday motion, will be examined along with others at a July 14 hearing.

Shelnutt, under a 40-count indictment, has asked for 36 of those counts to be dismissed in court filings made this week and last week. Shelnutt also has asked for statements he made to agents and prosecutors be tossed out, citing a 266-page transcript of a conversation made Feb. 28, 2008.

“(Assistant U.S. Attorney) Jason Ferguson deliberately misled Mr. Shelnutt about his purported non-‘target’ status when Mr. Shelnutt agreed to be interviewed, without the benefit of counsel, by Mr. Ferguson and FBI Special Agent Todd Kalish …” Shelnutt’s motion states. “… In fact, Mr. Shelnutt was a ‘target’ of the grand jury investigation. … Mr. Ferguson’s (sic) successfully duped Mr. Shelnutt into meeting with him by misrepresenting his status regarding the investigation.”

Shelnutt is accused of aiding and abetting a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, money laundering, witness tampering and attempted bribery.

His indictment alleges a connection between Shelnutt and convicted drug dealer Torrance Hill, whom Shelnutt represented and who pleaded guilty in federal court in December 2006.

In February 2008, Shelnutt represented Choici Lawrence in a Harris County state drug case. Lawrence, along with nine other defendants, were linked by authorities to Hill’s drug organization.

Many of those state cases have since been dropped and are now being prosecuted by federal authorities. In February 2008, however, Shelnutt wanted to talk to Ferguson about his representation of Lawrence and the possibility of him being the target of a federal investigation, Shelnutt’s motion states.

“Unbeknownst to Mr. Shelnutt, AUSA Ferguson had become an active participant into the investigation of Mr. Shelnutt, not only recording phone calls with Mr. Shelnutt but also by surreptitiously recording the meeting with Mr. Shelnutt.”

Shelnutt states that he told Ferguson and Kalish that it was their duty to tell an attorney if he’s the target of an investigation, citing a court decision.

“Mr. Shelnutt recognized his duties, were he a target, stating that he’d have an ‘absolute conflict’ if he were the target of the investigation,” the motion states. “Rather than accurately informing Mr. Shelnutt of the truth of the matter that the FBI and DEA had long since targeted him, Mr. Ferguson deceptively informed Mr. Shelnutt that it was his (Mr. Shelnutt’s problem), not the government’s.”

Shelnutt cites an 11th Circuit decision, which he says states that a lawyer “is under an ethical obligation to inform [the defendant] of [a criminal] investigation and the possibility that it would affect [the attorney’s] judgment while acting as [the defendant’s] counsel.”

On Wednesday, court records showed that a hearing on Shelnutt’s motion to suppress and other pending motions was scheduled July 14.

Also on Wednesday, court records revealed that Land would unseal documents on Tuesday that Shelnutt had requested be opened, unless an objection was filed in writing.

Shelnutt’s trial is scheduled for Sept. 8.

Ledger-Enquirer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service