Last call from Jon Woods: was a job for his fiancée a bribe or not?

Old State Senator Jon Woods’ lawyer this week filed his pleadings with the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals for a hearing on arguments that he deserves a new trial for his corruption conviction.

In September 2018, Woods was sentenced to 18 years in prison for being convicted of a kickback scheme involving state money. The conviction was upheld and the district judge denied, without a hearing, a motion for a new trial on Woods’ argument that the jury had not heard evidence that might have been helpful in his defense.

John Wesley Hall, in a brief filed this week, appealed this decision. He said it simply with regard to the issue of the hiring of Woods’ future wife by a social services agency, Alternative Opportunities, described as a favor in exchange for a million dollars in public money for the agency. Hall said the jury should have been told that Wood’s fiancée, Christina Mitchell, had been selected for the job by then-Sen. Jeremy Hutchinsonwho was employed as a lawyer for AO and deemed qualified.

But Hall said, “in all frankness”:

If hiring him is evidence of a bribe, verified or not, otherwise legal or not, does that legally matter here?

He noted that, in a corruption case against former judge Mike Maggio, the judge’s reduction of a jury verdict in favor of a retirement home owner was a legal action in itself, but it was still considered part of the corruption system. In the Woods case, Hall said:

If it doesn’t matter legally because a bribe is a bribe, then the court should say so. But if not, we submit that there should be a hearing.

Hall said Woods learned after the trial of Hutchinson’s long involvement in the case, including as an FBI informant. He was indicted three times and pleaded guilty to various crimes. Hall commented:

“And, Mr. Hutchinson is still a long way from being convicted because he is apparently always cooperating. At least that’s the legal inference and it seems to be statewide…. We don’t need to know what else he cooperated on, but we would love to know everything he knows about this case. The district court had his attorney’s letter, but the extent of his involvement here is still unknown.

Hall also said Wood deserves a hearing into whether the FBI interfered with Hutchinson’s attorney-client privilege with the service agency. The argument is that the FBI coerced Hutchinson into talking about a conversation with the agency’s lobbyist Rusty Cranford, also now a convicted conspirator, about the case. If Woods was told by Hutchinson about something that Hutchinson knew was a crime before it happened, “what about the criminal fraud exception to confidentiality and privilege? What was Hutchinson’s role in all the GIFs really? [General Improvement Fund] corruption? This is never mentioned, but even that would require a hearing to resolve factual disputes.

The government argued that Hutchinson’s conversations with Cranford should not have been introduced and would not have affected the outcome.

Nor was the conversation important to the outcome of the case. This did not refute substantial government evidence that Woods’ fiancé was hired in exchange for Woods providing a $1 million GIF grant to AO, as evidenced by emails between Cranford, Tom Goss, Bontiea Goss and Joe Krueger. Moreover, since at the time of Woods’ trial, Hutchinson was represented by an attorney and was being investigated for multiple bribes, he almost certainly would have invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify at the hearing. Woods trial. Without Hutchinson’s testimony, the Hutchinson/Cranford conversation was inadmissible hearsay, which could not have affected the outcome of the trial. With Hutchinson and Cranford’s guilty pleas for bribery involving AO, Woods cannot plausibly claim that the Hutchinson/Cranford conversation would be exculpatory at a new trial.

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