The Justice Department this week filed its expected objection to Jon Woods’ request that his conviction be set aside in a bribery case involving, among others, kickbacks from state money funneled to Ecclesia College.
Woods has lost his appeal of the 2018 conviction and 15-year sentence and has begun the post-conviction phase of attempting to overturn the verdict with a claim of new evidence and government misconduct.
The government’s response outlines particulars of the case, which included not only the Ecclesia kickbacks but also the hiring of Woods’ then-fiancee and now wife, Christina Mitchell, for a $70,000 job by the health care provider Alternative Opportunities after it received a $1 million state grant from General Improvement Fund money.
Woods contends the government learned some information used against him from information supplied by former Sen.Jeremy Hutchinson, who’s pleaded guilty in the case. Woods contends Hutchinson was “coerced” by the government into revealing confidential attorney-client information. Hutchinson was once paid for legal work by a health care provider whose enterprises included Alternative Opportunities.
Woods said the government had failed to disclose that Hutchinson had advised the health care provider that hiring Woods’ girlfriend was legal and ethical and failed to disclose work on the case by an FBI agent, Michael Lowe, who’d gotten Hutchinson to reveal supposed attorney-client matters.
The government notes, for one, that Woods’ request for post-conviction relief doesn’t cover the counts related to the Ecclesia bribery scheme, only the scheme to get a job for his girlfriend as part of funneling money to the health care organization.,
The government went on to say that information the FBI obtained from Hutchinson, which Woods didn’t have at his trial, “inculpates” rather than exculpates Woods. Among others, Hutchinson told the FBI that Woods had asked lobbyist Rusty Cranford to hire his girlfriend, Christina Mitchell, after directing state money to the organization.
Woods argues the importance of this information is that “[b]oth the conviction and length of the sentence are undermined by the failure of the government to disclose exculpatory information that Mitchell’s employment was properly vetted by someone without interest and that her pay was in accordance with her skills and experience.”
It is absurd to call Hutchinson, who stands convicted for his involvement in a bribery scheme involving AO, “someone without interest” who was responsible for “properly” vetting new hires. It is likewise inconsequential that Mitchell’s pay was commensurate with her skills and experience, even assuming that is true.
As the Government was aware at the time of trial and as all parties are now aware, when Hutchinson claimed he had this conversation with Cranford, he, like Woods, was involved in a bribe scheme with Cranford. Hutchinson has entered into a plea agreement admitting that Cranford and AO hired Hutchinson, paid him a monthly retainer, and provided him travel and entertainment in exchange for Hutchinson agreeing to take and taking official action. Rather than being exculpatory, this conversation is more akin to Cranford asking Hutchinson, who Cranford bribed through retainer fees, if a similar arrangement with Woods involving the hiring of Mitchell was remotely defensible if anyone questioned the legitimacy of her hiring.
In any case, the government said, this legal opinion from a participant in the bribery scheme wouldn’t lead to an acquittal because testimony from others who’ve pleaded guilty — Cranford and Hutchinson — would be unchanged.
The government also argues that the court had already considered the information about FBI agent Michael Lowe’s discussions with Hutchinson and concluded it hadn’t precipitated the prosecution of Woods. Woods had this information available for argument in the initial appeal of his conviction but didn’t raise it then. The government filing further disputes Woods’ claim that he’d been unaware of Lowe’s involvement in the case. Had he known, he claimed, he could have inquired about that agent’s phone call with another agent who wiped the hard drive of a computer containing information about the case. Woods tried at trial and on appeal, without success, to argue this could have erased information useful to his defense. The material was recovered elsewhere, the Justice Department said.
“Thus, even if Woods could show (which he cannot) that he was unaware of SA Lowe’s involvement in the investigation, he cannot show that this alleged lack of knowledge had any effect on the Court’s ruling regarding the Neal recordings, which was premised on the fact that no recordings were lost.”
The filing by Acting U.S. Attorney David Fowlkes asks the judge to deny Woods’ motion for a new trial.