Feds Add Extortion, Other Charges To Mississippi Judicial Bribery Case

A Gulf Coast attorney and a Mississippi Supreme Court justice attempted to extort money from two attorneys who had a case before the high court, according to an amended federal indictment charging current and former judges with bribery and fraud.

The indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in Jackson on Friday, alleges that Paul Minor in 2001 attempted to extort at least $20,000 from the attorneys who were to defend an appeal before the Supreme Court in which their client had been awarded $9 million.

The attorneys were not named in the indictment, but were referred to by the initials BLD and RBS.

In the case, Brandon HMA Inc. v Dawn Bradshaw, Diaz had written the majority opinion upholding the award, the indictment said. A motion to rehear the case was filed with the court in October 2001.

According to the indictment, Minor called one or both of the attorneys, telling them that Diaz "helped swing the vote in favor of their client, Dawn Bradshaw, and that the vote could have gone either way but for Oliver E. Diaz Jr.'s influence with other members of the court.''

Minor told them Diaz would be voting on the motion to rehear the case, the indictment read. Minor asked for at least $20,000 for Diaz, telling them the money would be used for a function at the bed and breakfast operated by Diaz's wife then, Jennifer Diaz, and the profits would got to the justice, according to the indictment.

Both attorneys refused to hand over any money, according to the indictment.

Minor and the Diazes, along with former judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield, were originally indicted last summer for fraud and bribery. They were accused of allegedly participating in schemes in which Minor provided cash and loans to the judges in exchange for favorable decisions.

Minor is also charged with racketeering. All five have pleaded innocent. A trial date is set for March 1.

In Friday's amended indictment, two new charges have been added, bringing the total to 18. Besides the extortion charges, the new indictment expands the dates of Minor's alleged involvement with Diaz to 1994, when Diaz was on the Court of Appeals.

In October 1994, a month before Diaz took his position on the Appeals Court, Minor guaranteed a loan to Diaz for $25,000, the indictment said. About two years later, Diaz voted to affirm a ruling for one of Minor's clients, the indictment read. Then in 2000, Diaz was the swing vote in a motion to rehear a case involving another client of Minor's.

Paul Minor told WLOX News, "The government thinks piling false charges on top of other false charges will somehow make their case better. No matter how they rearrange, repackage, or revise their case, I'm still not guilty and I firmly believe the jury in this case will come to the same conclusion"

Minor's attorney, Abbe Lowell, said the decision to bring new charges "after our motions have revealed the U.S. Attorney's conflicts of interest and political affiliations. This smacks of retribution that is not allowed under the law."

Lowell went on to say that Minor will plead "not guilty" and that he also plans to file a motion with the court arguing the new charges.

An attorney for Diaz did not immediately return calls on Friday.

Previously, Robert McDuff, Diaz's attorney, had argued that the charges against Diaz should be thrown out in part because Diaz recused himself in cases involving Minor before the Supreme Court.

The amended indictment also said Minor paid tens of thousand of dollars in legal fees on behalf of his father, journalist Bill Minor, who was involved in a case before the Supreme Court.

McDuff had argued that because Paul Minor had not represented his father in that case, and Diaz had done no wrongdoing by participating in the unanimous decision in Paul Minor's favor.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)