Mark Shelnutt: Officials tried to ruin shot at becoming a judge

ariquelmy@ledger-enquirer.comJune 25, 2009 

In a Feb. 28, 2008, conversation with law enforcement, Columbus attorney Mark Shelnutt makes accusations that people wanted to ruin his chances of becoming a judge — an office he was considering running for at the time.

Shelnutt is accused in a federal indictment of aiding and abetting a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, money laundering, witness tampering and attempted bribery. In a 266-page transcript, which was an exhibit to a motion he filed Tuesday, Shelnutt asks Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Ferguson to ask two law enforcement officers a question if the prosecutor should ever be before a grand jury.

“If you would do this one favor for me,” Shelnutt said. “...If they ever made the statement about this investigation of me, that you didn’t care if Mark Shelnutt was indicted or convicted, just ruin his chances of becoming a Superior Court judge...”

Shelnutt repeats the accusation later in his conversation with Ferguson and FBI Special Agent Todd Kalish, telling them to talk to Superior Court Judge Doug Pullen, who would “tell ya that there was a conversation where they told you, ruin a man’s career that we don’t like and keep him from being a judge...”

Shelnutt claims in the conversation that Superior Court Judge Robert Johnston III was telling people Shelnutt was going to be indicted.

“...I’m planning on running for judge this year against Judge Johnston, and he’s skipping around, uh, you know, telling people I’m about to be indicted,” Shelnutt said.

Johnston denied the accusation Wednesday.

“I never had knowledge that Mark Shelnutt was going to be indicted of anything,” the judge said. “I never communicated that Mark Shelnutt was going to be indicted of anything. I never talked to any law enforcement official of any type about it. I’m sorry that Mr. Shelnutt’s in this trouble. I have nothing against him personally. I hope that justice is done.”

Other points in the conversation include:

Ÿ Shelnutt takes credit for busting Torrance Hill, a client of his who pleaded guilty to drug charges in 2006. Shelnutt’s indictment alleges a connection between Hill and Shelnutt.

“Any notion that I was, I’m involved in any kind of deals or network with Torrance Hill is absurd. I’m the one that got him busted.”

Ÿ Shelnutt alleges that Drug Enforcement Administration agent Steve Ribolla told people that Shelnutt was under investigation and shouldn’t hire him as an attorney.

“...I start getting information that Ribolla is telling people that I’m under investigation and that they should not hire me.”

Ÿ Shelnutt questions how prosecutors could even consider prosecuting him.

“Gosh, man, how can you even think about prosecuting me?”

Ÿ Shelnutt says he wants to have some immunity from people making false accusations against him in the future.

“I wanted to be able to have some, have immunity from people being able to drum up false charges in the future.”

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