Skip to comments.Convicted on FBI Tapes @ Nudist Bar, Key West Bag Man Gets Only Probation From Retiring Judge
Posted on 06/07/2007 6:18:34 AM PDT by Elle Bee
Someone should check this retiring Federal Judge's freezer for a bag of cash .... Probation for three Felony Counts to an attorney guilty of conspiracy, witness tampering and obstruction of justice ????
Bribery suspects met at nudist pool bar - 02/09/2007
BY TIMOTHY O'HARA
KEY WEST -- Prosecutors on Thursday showed to a jury surveillance video and photographs of meetings between an indicted former county attorney and their star witness, including one at a popular clothing-optional resort's pool bar.
Former County Attorney Jim Hendrick met political consultant Randy Hilliard at Atlantic Shores Resort on July 11, 2003 -- nine days after a former county mayor met with federal investigators at the Sheraton Suites hotel and admitted taking a bribe in exchange for building permits on a Marathon resort project the county had denied, court documents state.
Hendrick is accused of arranging the bribe, as well as a subsequent cover-up after the FBI arrested London. Prosecutors say Hendrick and Hilliard, who was once was listed in the telephone book as the Prince of Darkness, met at Atlantic Shores to discuss the cover-up. Hilliard, who already had admitted his role and received immunity from prosecution, secretly taped several conversations with Hendrick for the FBI.
Two days before their meeting, Hilliard called Hendrick, who told him the statute of limitations had run out for bribery charges, prosecutors say. Hendrick invited Hilliard, who lives in Miami, to come to Key West to talk about his "legal representation," court documents say.
Unbeknownst to Hendrick, Hilliard had an audio recording device in his white, Speedo-style swimsuit and another in his sports bag, said FBI agent Michael Pilapil, who specializes in undercover surveillance. Several undercover federal agents also watched from the bar.
"I can't help but ask if the agents kept their clothes on," federal prosecutor Christopher Clark jokingly asked Pilapil, who replied yes. In the photos, Hendrick wore shorts and a tan T-shirt, and Hilliard wore his scant swim trunks and a big yellow hat.
Prosecutors did not play the audio recordings from that day, showing only two still photographs and describing the scene. The agent said they had trouble recording because the "breezy" weather conditions and loud music created "a lot of interference."
The agent did play a video recording showing the two men meeting on March 8, 2004, in a small cottage at Hendrick's former Flagler Avenue home. Hendrick allegedly told Hilliard he "should conform his testimony [to an upcoming federal grand jury] with London's fictitious account," prosecutors said in court records. Hendrick allegedly gave Hilliard documents relating to the Halls Resort development project "to assist in the [cover-up] endeavor," records say.
Prosecutors did not play an audio recording from that meeting to substantiate the accusations, and provided no explanation as to why not. Court records do not contain full transcriptions of the audio recordings Hilliard made of eight phone calls and three meetings with Hendrick.
The FBI agent also testified Thursday that former County Mayor Jack London went to Hendrick's law firm twice on July 1, 2003 -- the day after London confessed to the FBI.
The FBI arrested Hendrick at his Whitehead Street office on May 19, 2005, charging him with conspiracy, witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
Hilliard and London admitted to splitting $82,500 in exchange for getting the Monroe County Commission to approve the building permits for Marathon developer Marvin Rappaport's Halls Resort, court records show. Hilliard agreed to cooperate with the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Attorney's Office in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
London initially was charged with three counts of giving false statements to federal investigators and filing a false tax return. In exchange for his testimony against Hendrick, the FBI dropped all but the false income tax charge, to which he pleaded guilty in August 2005. London died of a stroke in November, leaving Hilliard as the government's key witness.
HENDRICK FOUND GUILTY ON ALL CHARGES - 02/24/2007
KEY WEST -- A jury found former County Attorney Jim Hendrick guilty of conspiracy, witness tampering and obstruction of justice Friday, after deliberating for about two hours.
Hendrick, 59, immediately was taken to the Federal Detention Center in Miami, where he will remain in custody until his May 4 sentencing. He faces up to 20 years in prison and $1 million in fines, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
His wife, Vera Vasek, maintained his innocence to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Key West and said he would appeal his conviction.
"We will continue to fight, every step of the way, to prove his innocence," Vasek said.
A judge denied Hendrick's request for bond while he files his appeal on the four charges, which include two counts of witness tampering.
Jurors declined to answer media questions as they left the courthouse. An alternate, who did not take part in the deliberations, said she had not formed an opinion about Hendrick's guilt or innocence.
"They came back so quickly, I thought it would have went the other way," said Joan Teach, who stayed to listen to the verdict. "I really did not have a chance to process it all. I was tired by the end of each day. ... We also could not take our notes home. I really didn't have a chance to form an opinion. I really didn't."
Hendrick's attorney, Ed Shohat, declined to comment on the verdict.
Prosecuting attorney Brenda Morris, who questioned Hendrick on cross-examination and gave closing arguments, also declined to comment about the case.
Morris and fellow federal prosecutor Christopher Clark built a case that Hendrick was involved in a bribery scheme and subsequent cover-up as federal investigators began questioning people about it. Former County Mayor Jack London and political consultant Randy Hilliard admitted that developer Marvin Rappaport paid them $82,500 to secure building permits to redevelop his Hall's Resort in Marathon in 1996.
The Planning Department previously had said the redevelopment plans did not conform to development regulations. London, who was to testify in the trial, died in November.
Hendrick did not receive money, but allegedly arranged the bribe and orchestrated the cover-up, prosecutors said. He advised London to leave the country to avoid having to testify before a grand jury. He also tried to get Hilliard to tailor his grand jury testimony to mirror what London had told FBI agents, prosecutors said.
Key to the prosecution was the testimony of London's widow, Elaine, who gave a detailed account of a lunch she had with her husband and Hendrick at the Pier House on March 17, 2004. In talking about the case possibly going before the federal grand jury in Key West, Hendrick told London to go to Ireland, Elaine London testified.
Morris finished her closing argument citing part of Elaine's testimony, when she said the two had referred to themselves as "the two most powerful men in Monroe County."
"He's just a man. He's an arrogant man," Morris told the jury. "He has duped Monroe County for years and he thinks maybe he can get away with it ... I submit to you that the defendant never thought Elaine London would have the strength to come in here and testify."
London was arrested at the Key West International Airport before his flight to Ireland in 2004 and charged with lying to federal agents and tax evasion for not reporting the bribe money. The statute of limitations on the bribe had run out. The feds dropped the lying charge after London began cooperating with the FBI.
Hilliard, who was granted immunity for his testimony, was another key witness, having secretly taped conversations between himself and Hendrick for the FBI. On one tape, Hendrick said London "rose in our eyes when he didn't stand up and tell them what we had done," referring to himself and developer Pritam Singh. In another, Hendrick told Hilliard "in the eyes of the government I am your co-conspirator."
The courtroom was filled with Hendrick supporters, many of whom looked stunned and gasped when the verdict was read. Minutes before, Hendrick, a self-proclaimed Buddhist, closed his eyes and appeared to be meditating as the crowd sat quietly awaiting the verdict.
The scene was a stark contrast from most days of the three-week trial. Jokes had been exchanged between prosecutors and defense attorneys, and Hendrick supporters mingled among each other during breaks.
Hendrick sentence appealed 6/7/2007
BY TIMOTHY O'HARA
Federal prosecutors have filed an appeal to the sentence of former Monroe County Attorney Jim Hendrick, who was placed on probation and ordered to do community service for obstructing justice and witness tampering in a federal public corruption case.
The U.S. Attorney's Office filed the appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, according to a two-page legal brief filed with the court on Tuesday. There were no supporting documents filed that spell out why prosecutors are asking for review of the sentence. A brief will be filed, and that will contain the legal arguments, U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Yovanny Lopez said.
Federal Judge Shelby Highsmith chose not to sentence Hendrick to prison last month, but instead opted for five years of probation, 2,500 hours of community service and a $50,000 fine. Highsmith cited Hendrick's "previous good works, his charity work and his pro bono legal work." Highsmith also mentioned that no other person tied to the crime was sentenced to prison. Highsmith deviated from sentencing guidelines, which took into account Hendrick's first-time offender status and the severity of the crime. Hendrick was facing three to five years in federal prison.
Hendrick on Wednesday called the prosecutors' move "unusual."
"I am not an expert, but it seems unusual," said Hendrick, a former public defender and former county attorney. "Now they have left me no choice but to appeal."
On prosecutors challenging his sentence, he said: "It's sort of being like indicted. You don't have an have opportunity to decline it."
Hendrick is awaiting Highsmith's ruling on a motion to have the conviction on counts of conspiracy, witness tampering and obstruction of justice thrown out.
Former federal prosecutor and now practicing Miami attorney Steven E.M. Hartz said there is precedent for prosecutors to request a new sentencing, especially in public corruption cases.
"It does happen from time to time," Hartz said. "They will appeal a sentence if they feel it's inheritably unfair to the interest of the United States. They don't do it every day."
Hartz called Highsmith an "excellent judge who is very experienced."
A jury in February agreed with prosecutors' arguments that Hendrick helped political consultant Randy Hilliard and former Monroe County Mayor Jack London devise a story to cover up a bribe from a local developer. Hendrick then urged London to flee to Ireland when the government started investigating.
Marathon developer Marvin Rappaport testified that he paid Hilliard $82,500 Rappaport called it a consulting fee, the FBI called a bribe in exchange for the Monroe County Commission's approval of building permits for a resort project in 1996. Rappaport received that approval.
"The Prince of Darkness has ruined Atlantic Shores for us. Now we will never be able to go there again without wondering what the guys are stuffing into their Speedos." (From Key West Citizen's VOICE)
Bubba system appears to be judicially endorsed
As a retired former prosecutor and magistrate judge, I am appalled by Judge Shelby Highsmith's grant of probation to Jim Hendrick. Hendrick was convicted of three felony crimes, the character of which no lawyer with any decency whatsoever could conceive of committing. As the former county attorney, one would expect Hendrick to be the type of person who would enforce justice, not obstruct it. Witness tampering is something we decent lawyers think of as only occurring in bad mystery novels. Then, according to the jury, Hendrick conspired to cover his own butt, as he continues to do. He has now made it known that he will pursue his appeal, all the while denying any wrongdoing in the face of the absence of reasonable doubt. After receiving his sentence, he triumphantly pumped his fist in the air. Is this a repentant man, who deserves probation? I think not. I fully expect to read in tomorrow's Citizen that the motion for acquittal was granted. Perhaps lifetime appointments for federal judges should be rethought.
Hendrick's sentence sends wrong message
Probation for former Monroe County Attorney Jim Hendrick is totally outrageous, flying in the face of justice and common sense, while sending a strong message that attorneys and public officials are above the law. Further, Hendrick should have been disbarred the very moment he became a convicted felon for witness tampering and covering up a bribe to former Monroe County Mayor Jack London. Instead of probation, Federal Judge Shelby Highsmith should have thrown the book at Hendrick, sending the opposite message to elected officials, developers and their legal counsel alike who become involved with bribes or sleazy land deals.
Former Mayor London disgraced himself and his office by accepting a bribe, fueling existing public skepticism, while making the words "honest government" an oxymoron. Sadly, whatever good deeds London accomplished in office will be forgotten and his legacy will be reduced to his worst deed. Some will cry unfair, but is it really?
And now it's somewhat ironic our current County Mayor Mario Di Gennaro lobbied the good judge for nothing less than a wrist slap for Hendrick. To date, the mayor himself has acted more as an advocate for big developers than a legitimate representative for our residents, not to mention his own problems with the law when it comes to Sunshine Law violations.
Moreover, for Di Gennaro to subsequently suggest Hendrick be allowed to do pro bono legal work as atonement for his criminal sins represents a blatant betrayal of public trust and open contempt for laws, which most of us must obey.
In the future, Hendrick should be seen beside the Overseas Highway with a nail in one end of a stick and himself attached to the other, cleaning up the very islands he soiled.
But putting all of that aside, there is even a larger message here for the voters, which is if there's an appearance of impropriety, it's time for a closer look. And voters should always look carefully at any candidate's contribution reports and indeed follow the money.
Personally, I believe most folks are crying out for honest government and honest elected officials, but these same folks must take the time to participate in the most basic level of democracy, which is casting an informed vote. As we continue to elect those with conflicts and special interests, we can expect selective representation and often blind eyes and deaf ears to the voters themselves.
All of us have some issue with government, but in a case of this nature, where the criminal act is so very blatant and the subsequent scandal is so shameful, a mere slap on the wrist seems most offensive to each and every honest citizen. Let's pay attention now, and next time get it right at the ballot box.
Editor's note: Bob Johnson is a former mayor of Islamorada.
No pictures please!
Pity the poor jurors
Is that a recording device in your Speedos or are you just happy to see me?
....and Libby gets 30 months.
Dontchya just love American “justice?”
though they did say the recording was somewhat muffled
The microphone should get a special service award
Excuse me, after I make a little adjustment down here could you repeat that?
Can you imagine citing an attorney's service to the community after he is convicted of three Federal nickels ... Bribery and witness tampering and Obstruction amongst them
This should be cited as another reason for Bush to pardon Libby NOW
may as well let Paris Hilton too out under this standard
The imagery could get ugly
I think the only think you can get time for in Key West is “homophobia” or “reckless conservatism”.
Was he suspended ? repromanded ?
Nah ... they gave him a retroactive pay raise last week.
Yesterday they fired the City Manager ... someting about free city housing for his children
If the Bait Wrapper covers it at all it will be days from now
There’s a Movie here somewhere
Only if they use a Democratic Party hack as the judge.
“....may as well let Paris Hilton too out.......”
Already been done!!!!!!