Mark Shelnutt alleges 'outrageous government misconduct'

ariquelmy@ledger-enquirer.comJune 26, 2009 

A death threat made against Columbus attorney Mark Shelnutt by a former client and the government’s decision to assign to the case FBI agents who also were investigating Shelnutt represent “outrageous governmental misconduct” that Shelnutt argues in a court filing this week are reasons to dismiss the indictment against him.

Shelnutt, accused of money laundering, aiding and abetting a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, witness tampering and attempted bribery, filed several motions this week in U.S. District Court that seek to have accusations in the 40-count indictment against him tossed out.

The indictment alleges a connection between Shelnutt and Torrance Hill, whom Shelnutt represented and who pleaded guilty in December 2006 to federal drug charges.

In his Tuesday motion to dismiss the indictment because of the government’s misconduct, Shelnutt alleges that government agents interviewed Hill “countless” times beginning in July of 2005. In one interview, they played a recording in which Shelnutt “allows how it was one of his former client’s (sic) that was the informant for the government, who led authorities to Mr. Hill’s arrest,” the motion states.

Around Oct. 16, 2008, an assistant U.S. attorney called Shelnutt’s attorney and told him a credible threat had been made on Shelnutt’s life, the motion states. The FBI then assigned two agents, ones who were investigating Shelnutt, to look into the death threat. The FBI refused to provide Shelnutt with protection, the motion says.

“Hill’s threat to kill Mr. Shelnutt was especially concerning to Mr. Shelnutt because one of the drug organizations related to Hill had, according to the government, committed at least five murders,” the motion states.

Attempted bribery

Shelnutt lists in his motion several examples of what he terms governmental misconduct.

Among them was one on Aug. 27, 2007, when Shelnutt presented Assistant U.S. Attorney Mel Hyde affidavits he considered were false, the motion states. Those affidavits, Shelnutt claims, were made by the Metro Narcotics Task Force.

Three days later, two FBI agents interviewed Hyde. “It is out of that interview of Mr. Hyde that the government has fashioned the defective attempted bribery charge,” the motion states.

An exhibit to the motion, which states that Hyde was interviewed Aug. 30, 2007, describes the time Shelnutt allegedly offered the prosecutor two 50-yard-line tickets to a University of Georgia football game.

“Shelnutt stated if it was an integrity issue, he would sell the tickets to AUSA Hyde for the face value of $25,” the exhibit states. “AUSA Hyde estimated the market value of the tickets to be approximately $200 apiece.”

False allegations

A month before the meeting with Hyde, Shelnutt was interviewed by an FBI agent about Shelnutt allegedly trying to bribe a Metro informant, the motion states. Shelnutt had recorded his conversation with the informant and played it for Hyde, and that recording showed Shelnutt never tried to bribe the person, Shelnutt says.

“Mr. Hyde told Mr. Shelnutt, after he listened to that tape, that he would, in effect, ‘call off the dogs,’ ” the motion states.

Shelnutt has requested a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land about the arguments he makes. Land has scheduled a hearing for July 14 on several of Shelnutt’s motions.

Land also stated in court records this week that he would unseal documents Shelnutt has requested to prepare his defense. Prosecutors filed a written reply Thursday, stating they have no issue with those documents being unsealed.

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