After Paul Minor was resentenced this week, the Clarion Ledger editorial board weighed in today saying, in essence, that Minor’s sentence was too harsh and his conviction was a result of Mississippi’s campaign laws and not necessarily because of his conduct. They didn’t question why Minor (or Scruggs) wasn’t prosecuted under state laws, but that’s a different story for a different day.
The 11-year sentence given to Minor by Wingate originally was especially harsh. The reduction in light of the vacated charges was merited, but the sentences remain tough.
Minor’s conviction remains a symbol of the disparity between federal and state laws over campaign finance.
This is just another in a long stream of media hit-and-run pieces that prove to me that the Mississippi media establishment have blinders on when it comes to the conduct of their friends. There has not been a SINGLE piece that has regurgitated the actual facts proven at trial. Only Minor’s defense bullet points (they were “campaign loans”, it was a political prosecution, and the judges weren’t actually influenced) are what you see in the hard news and now on the editorial pages.
From the award-winning YallPolitics Memory Division, let’s look again at what Minor was convicted of. This is from the 5th Circuit opinion. This isn’t the indictment. This is what was proved to the court.
Minor arranged for The Peoples Bank in Biloxi, Mississippi, with which he had substantial deposits, to grant Whitfield two loans with Minor serving as guarantor. Peoples Bank sought no collateral to secure the loans, but rather, in the words of the loan officer that handled the transactions, relied “simply on the strength of Mr. Minor’s financial ability” to ensure repayment. On October 12, 1998, Peoples Bank loaned Whitfield $40,000 for “campaign funds,” which he deposited into his campaign account. Later, after Whitfield’s successful reelection, Peoples Bank granted Whitfield another loan for $100,000 on November 19, 1998, the purpose of which was described in the loan documents as a “down payment on home.” Whitfield deposited the proceeds of this loan in the bank account of his then-girlfriend, who used the majority of the money to place a down-payment on a house for the two of them. Whitfield and his girlfriend spent the remainder of the loan proceeds to purchase home furnishings and to pay credit card bills. Whitfield never listed either loan on his campaign disclosure forms, nor did he report subsequent loan repayments made by Minor on the annual statements of economic interest that he was required to file as a judge.
Soon after the close of the Marks trial, Whitfield resigned from the bench, and Minor helped him obtain a job at a prominent law firm in Gulfport, Mississippi. At that point, Minor deviated from his standard method of payment on the loans by funneling money through Whitfield rather than paying the bank himself. In May and December of 2001, Minor wrote two checks to Whitfield for $15,000 and $10,000 respectively. The checks were accompanied by cover letters attempting to conceal their true purpose, which was revealed when Whitfield issued checks to Peoples Bank in the exact same amounts as soon as Minor’s checks cleared. Afterward, Minor returned to his practice of making cash payments directly to the bank.
Eventually, in July of 2002, federal and state bank examiners conducting a routine audit of Peoples Bank discovered and criticized the loans, which by that point had been consolidated into a single obligation. As a result, the bank requested that the debt be satisfied in full. Minor agreed, and instead of paying it off himself directly, he enlisted the help of Leonard Radlauer, an attorney from New Orleans, to act as a strawman. Radlauer, who was a friend of Minor’s from law school, was also an acquaintance of Whitfield and had contributed to his campaign when Whitfield first ran for office. Minor asked Radlauer if he would pay off the Whitfield loan in order to “keep it out of the newspapers” and assured Radlauer that he was not “doing anything funny.” Radlauer agreed, and on August 27, 2002, Minor wired $125,000 to Radlauer’s account in New Orleans. That same day, Radlauer wired $118,652.42 to Peoples Bank to pay off Whitfield’s loan. Minor insisted that Radlauer keep the difference, but Radlauer eventually returned the money to Minor.
Some three weeks later, Minor traveled to New Orleans and approached Radlauer in a local bar appearing “panic stricken” and “very nervous.” Minor informed Radlauer that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) might want to talk with him and assured him that Whitfield would pay him back. When Radlauer protested that there was nothing to repay, Minor suggested that he misrepresent the true nature of the transaction to the FBI so as to conceal Minor’s role. In the meantime, a FedEx envelope from Whitfield’s law firm containing a falsified Whitfield promissory note to Radlauer for$117,013.21 had arrived at Radlauer’s office. The note was back-dated to August 26, 2002, the day before Radlauer had made the wire transfer to Peoples Bank. The envelope also contained a handwritten note from Whitfield thanking Radlauer for his “assistance” and “kindness” in paying off the loan and assuring Radlauer that he would “repay the entire amount plus interest.” Realizing that he had been drawn into a “shady” transaction, Radlauer immediately returned the false promissory note to Whitfield, and, in a letter sent to both Whitfield and Minor, insisted that he be kept out of any improper arrangements in the future.
It is just inconceivable to me that the state’s newspaper of record is willing to talk about the case, but not the facts of them (which aren’t at all hard to find). That’s not to mention the fact that how unethical the behavior involved was. In fact, at resentencing, Whitfield talked about being ashamed that he put “justice for sale”.
But, trust me. I know wherefrom I speak. I have personally seen the depths to which those in the media have actively tried to help Paul Minor. It’s just indescribably disappointing that the circle of folks continues to widen.