A few months ago, I began getting email messages about this case. The most recent came today and, I suspect but don’t know for certain, the NEMS360.com report on the upcoming hearing of Zach Scruggs’ Motion to Vacate prompted this latest message.
In the event it did not, I’ll confess that Judge Biggers’ decision had everything to do with my decision to toss my plans for the evening and dig a little deeper into Ken Nowlin’s Motion to Vacate his guilt plea. Why? Because there’s little comparison between Nowlin and Scruggs; yet, both have filed motions to vacate their agreements to plead guilty before a north Mississippi federal court.
Nowlin was the big fish in the little pond of Ecru, Mississippi – population 947 in the 2000 Census. Scruggs, on the other hand, is the son of the biggest fish in the pond – an award winning catch for the federal prosecutors working for the U.S. Attorney of the northern district of Mississippi.
Nowlin served almost 15 months and paid nearly $276,000 in restitution after pleading guilty three years ago to one count of a 53-count federal indictment, which accused him of a conspiracy to corruptly accept some $827,000 in insurance commissions. (NEMS360.com)
However, Nowlin, like Scruggs, claims he was pressured to plead guilty; albeit under different circumstances:
Upon advice of counsel, and against his wishes, Petitioner Ken Nowlin plead guilty to Count One of the superseding indictment in this case. The indictment charged Petitioner with conspiracy to violate 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 666. Petitioner is innocent of those charges and his attorney…scared, intimated and coerced Petitioner into pleading guilty…
In drafting § 666, Congress made clear that not every situation that might to some be considered an act of bribery should be subjected to federal oversight and punishment. Congress did not intend § 666 to reach normal business dealings and a restriction on the reach of § 666 was built into the statute which provided that , “[t]his section does not apply to bona fide salary, wages, fees or other compensation paid, or expenses paid or reimbursed, in the usual course of business.” (Nowlin v USA: Brief in Support of Motion to Vacate and Set Aside Guilty Plea, Conviction and Sentence)
The “normal business dealings” that resulted in Nowlin’s indictment were commissions from the sale of insurance:
On March 12, 2007, Petitioner retained…[an attorney]…to represent him in the event an investigation that was being brought against him by one of his competitors in the insurance business developed into something that required him to have an attorney…(The investigation questioned the method Petitioner used to pay one of his agents, Gary Massey, after Mr. Massey was elected to the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors.) After retaining…[an attorney]…Petitioner told him on numerous occasions that Mr. Massey had a letter from the Lafayette County attorney, Scot Spragins, which Mr. Massey believed allowed him to be paid by Petitioner the way he told Petitioner that he could be paid. (Nowlin v USAA: Motion for Court to take Judicial Notice of Related Pleading Filed in this Court).
Nowlin met with his attorney in an attempt to withdraw his guilty plea and his Motion also claims his attorney “told him that he was not going to embarrass him by backing out on a deal that he had made with the federal government because he had to work with the ‘federal people’ “.
Judges – and those in the federal court of the North Mississippi district are no exception – rely on ‘federal people’ to negotiate plea agreements with integrity and likewise expect integrity in the representation of defendants. In that regard, it is noteworthy that both Zach Scruggs and Ken Nowlin question the integrity of the same attorney as well as that of the same “federal people”.
And the moral of this story is that a big frog in a little pond and the son of the biggest frog in a big pond, alike, are subject to blind justice turning a deaf ear in the “just-us” system of of the northern district Mississippi.
Want to know more? Read the NEMS360 story and the briefs linked above as well as these two additional briefs filed by Nowlin: