Prosecutors: Judge should reject withdrawal of guilty plea

Published 10:52 am Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The government is opposing an attempt by a former Mississippi House member to withdraw his guilty plea in a prison corruption case.

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Federal prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate on Monday to deny the move earlier this month by Cecil McCrory of Brandon to change his plea back to innocent and proceed to a jury trial.

“McCrory’s blank assertion of innocence — days before his sentencing and without any factual basis — is insufficient and unconvincing,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Case.

Wingate will hear the issue Wednesday.

McCrory and Sam Waggoner of Carthage, a prison phone consultant, had been scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday. Waggoner has asked for a delay in his sentencing because he might have to testify against McCrory if McCrory’s case goes to trial.

McCrory pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy and faces up to 20 years in prison. He’s also forfeiting $1.7 million in assets. Former Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps, whom McCrory said he bribed, also pleaded guilty in February 2015 along with McCrory. Epps faces up to 23 years in prison and has forfeited $1.7 million in assets.

Prosecutors reject McCrory’s claim that he wasn’t effectively aided by a lawyer. They say McCrory never before asserted innocence and there’s no proof his plea wasn’t voluntarily and knowingly made, noting Wingate held an “exhaustive” plea hearing where McCrory admitted guilt in his own words.

“Did he not transfer $350,000 to pay off Epps’s mortgage or $50,000 to pay for Epps’s beach condominium?” Case writes. “Did he not take $40,000 in cash from Epps and launder that money through one of his companies?  Did he not wire $50,000 from one of his business accounts directly to Epps’s investment fund account?  And, did he not receive — personally or through his businesses — in excess of $5 million?”

Case also writes that two years is an “extraordinary” delay before a defendant changes his mind, that it would it would hurt the government to try the case so late, and that it would inconvenience Wingate and waste court resources.

McCrory’s current attorney, Carlos Tanner, said McCrory received ineffective representation from his first attorney. Tanner said prosecutors still have not given McCrory all documents needed to prepare his defense.

Epps’ sentencing has been delayed several times, and is set for May 24. He had been free on bond, but Wingate revoked his bond and ordered Epps jailed last month after police in a Jackson suburb charged him with burglary for taking exterior lights and a control box from a house he had forfeited. McCrory remains free on bond.

Four others have been convicted in the case.