Court upholds sentences of Minor, Teel, Whitfield

NEW ORLEANS — A federal appeals court has upheld the sentences of a once-successful attorney and two former judges in a Mississippi corruption case.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans affirmed the sentences of former lawyer Paul Minor and former judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield in a decision released yesterday. Prosecutors say Minor backed loans for the judges in exchange for favorable court rulings.

Minor, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was once one of Mississippi’s most successful plaintiff attorneys, amassing a fortune from tobacco, asbestos, medical malpractice and car safety lawsuits.

Minor was first convicted of corruption charges in 2007 and sentenced to 11 years. He was resentenced in June to eight years because the 5th Circuit vacated bribery convictions in 2009. The appeals court let some of his convictions stand, including racketeering.

Teel and Whitfield also were resentenced to shorter terms. Teel has been released.

In court documents, Minor argued prosecutors didn’t prove he got something in return for guaranteeing loans for Teel and Whitfield. Teel and Whitfield have joined in Minor’s brief. The appeals court heard arguments on the matter in July.

Prosecutors said Minor guaranteed loans for the judges, then used cash and third parties to pay off the debts. They said the judges then ruled in his favor in civil cases. Minor said the loans were meant to help friends in times of need and he expected nothing in return.

Prosecutors said all three took extraordinary steps to hide the loans.

Minor had argued the government failed to show he bought any ruling with payments to Teel or Whitfield, and didn’t show that a different judge would have come to a different conclusion in cases cited by prosecutors.

In its ruling this week, the court upheld the latest sentences.

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