iOS app Android app More

Larisa Alexandrovna

Larisa Alexandrovna

Posted: June 24, 2008 03:34 PM

Justice for Sale: How Big Tobacco and the GOP teamed up to crush Democrats in the South

Part VII of the Permanent Republican Majority Series

by Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane

Almost immediately after his appointment as US Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi in late 2001, Dunnica Lampton began to investigate key Mississippi Democrats.

Trial lawyer and major Democratic campaign contributor Paul Minor quickly became a target of such an investigation. Minor, one of the largest Democratic donors in the South and the largest in Mississippi, would quickly find himself in the midst of a political firing line.

On July 25, 2003, three months before the Mississippi gubernatorial election, in a case that would stun the legal community, Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr., Paul Minor, former chancery court judge Wes Teel and former circuit court judge John Whitfield were indicted on charges of bribery, relating to loan guarantees that Minor had made to the three judges to help defray campaign costs.

There was no state law prohibiting Minor's contributions, and his trial resulted in an acquittal on some charges and a deadlocked jury on others. However, this trial was immediately followed by the unsealing of fresh charges.

During the second trial, presiding Judge Henry Wingate excluded evidence showing that Minor had a long-established pattern of offering loans or loan guarantees to his friends in the legal community, thus creating the appearance that Minor had helped the three judges in hopes of receiving something in return.


Although prosecutors were unable to prove that Minor had bribed the judges in exchange for favors from the bench, the second trial resulted in a conviction. The jury determined that a quid pro quo had taken place between Minor and two of the judges, Teel and Whitfield, in large part because Judge Wingate had instructed them it was not necessary for the prosecution to prove bribery.

Even thought no quid pro quo was proven and there was no state law prohibiting lawyers from making loan guarantees to judges, Minor was sentenced to serve an 11-year prison term and pay over $4 million in fines and restitution.

In a startling similarity to the case of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman -- who was also targeted by a Bush-appointed US Attorney -- Minor has been denied appeal bond. Both Siegelman and Minor, despite being convicted of white-collar, non-violent crimes, were shackled and manacled, and moved to out-of-state prisons. (See Part I of this series)


The beginning: Big Tobacco

The tortuous trail to Paul Minor's jailing begins in the 1990s, with the set of history-making cases brought against the tobacco industry by states seeking to recover smoking-related health costs. Minor was among those representing the plaintiffs. He joined numerous other trial lawyers and state attorneys general, including Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore.

The tobacco industry settled without going to trial, making a $246 billion dollar payout to the states -- the largest civil settlement in history. Among those forced to pay were the four biggest tobacco companies: R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Company, and Philip Morris USA.

Trial lawyers like Minor earned millions from the deal. Many became generous contributors to Democratic candidates and campaigns, especially in the South. Minor was one of the largest contributors to Southern Democrats and the largest in the state of Mississippi.

Republicans, meanwhile, who had previously enjoyed generous donations from the tobacco industry, were left with little for their campaign coffers.


Rove, Tort Reform, and Big Tobacco

Karl Rove, the former Bush Administration White House Deputy Chief of Staff, is alleged by Republican attorney turned whistle-blower Dana Jill Simpson to have played a major role in the prosecution of Don Siegelman in Alabama. Simpson is not alone in her allegations. Many lawyers, politicians, and even active members of the Alabama RNC have made similar allegations during the course of our investigation.

As one Alabama Republican close to the state Republican Party told us, Rove "would never discuss anything on the phone. He would tell you to meet him at some corner and then you get there and sure enough he is standing in the middle of the intersection waving at you."


But as Raw Story's series has shown, Rove's role in the US Attorney scandal is one that he has played for many years -- acting as a broker on deals which were rewarded by corporate donations to Republican coffers.

"Rove is a lobbyist," said one Washington source close to the investigation of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff who wishes to remain anonymous. "He never stopped being a lobbyist."

Rove met frequently in 2002-03 with Abramoff, other lobbyists, and Alabama campaign operatives -- specifically with members of Bob Riley's gubernatorial campaign. Riley was Don Siegelman's Republican opponent, and Riley's campaign advisor, Bill Canary, was Karl Rove's long-time business associate. Moreover, Bill Canary's wife, Leura, was appointed by George W. Bush as US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, and it is her office that prosecuted Siegelman.

Ten years before the tobacco settlement, in 1988, Rove had already discovered the advantages of appealing to both voters and corporate donors by painting trial lawyers who had won generous settlements in cases of corporate negligence or medical malpractice as greedy corruptors of the judicial process. With Rove's encouragement, the "tort reform" movement, aimed at limiting damage settlements, developed rapidly through the 1990s, pulling in corporate contributions and twice helping Rove elect George W. Bush as governor of Texas.

Rove also served a consultant for tobacco giant Philip Morris, which invested heavily in Texas judicial races, helping to secure Republican dominance in that state's courts by the end of the decade. An internal Philip Morris document from 1995 indicates just how involved big tobacco was in creating the "Tort Reform Project" -- although there is no evidence tying Rove directly to that strategy.

Rove even did his best to head off Texas's participation in the state lawsuits against the tobacco industry. "From 1991 through 1996, while guiding the ascent of Bush to the Texas governorship and during his early years in that office, Rove worked as a $3,000-a-month consultant to Philip Morris," Salon's Sidney Blumenthal wrote last year. "In 1996, when Texas Attorney General Dan Morales filed a suit against tobacco companies seeking compensation for state Medicaid funds spent on workers who fell ill because of smoking, Rove conducted a dirty trick against him -- a push poll spreading smears about him."


The US Attorney scandal: Purchasing the law and cutting off Democratic campaign funding

The US Attorney scandal as it unfolded in the South might best be understood as a two-part strategy that simultaneously served both the corporate sponsors of Southern Republicans and the politicians to whom they contributed. One aspect of this two-pronged strategy can be seen as a bribery scandal, in which corporate interests received government favors as a corollary to campaign donations.

In Alabama, the corporate client was the gambling industry. Its lobbyist was the now-convicted felon Jack Abramoff, who brokered deals and funneled money to Republican congressional coffers. Although the money came in from neighboring Mississippi, the issue for Abramoff's gambling clients was a proposed state lottery that Alabama Governor Don Siegelman was promoting. The gambling industry flooded Republican coffers in exchange for other types of favors, such as the loosening of gambling industry oversight.

In Mississippi, the corporate client was big tobacco -- and their chief lobbyist now sits in the Mississippi governor's chair.

The second aspect of the strategy is the politicization of US law enforcement by the Bush administration, specifically the Department of Justice. The US Attorney scandal is less about the US Attorneys who were fired than about those who remained and are alleged to have used federal law enforcement resources to intimidate Democratic campaign donors.


Family tragedy

Paul Minor has been in prison for nearly two years, since the judge ruled in Sept. 2006 that he had violated the terms of his bond by drinking excessively and not abiding by terms of his house arrest. During that time, his wife Sylvia's breast cancer has spread to her brain and spine. According to family and friends, Mrs. Minor has now had all of her medications stopped except for pain management drugs, indicating that she is in the last stages of her illness.

Minor had started drinking as a result of the two prosecutions and the mounting costs of his legal defense, although he admits it's been a life-long battle. During the second trial, Minor's wife Sylvia developed breast cancer. The stress of the personal tragedy and the trials, say those close to Minor, caused him to drink. Wingate ruled that Minor's drinking was a violation of his bond.

Mrs. Minor's health has since deteriorated severely. Bill Minor, Paul Minor's father, who is a well-respected former correspondent for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and a political columnist for the Clarion-Ledger, says that his daughter-in-law has taken a bad turn.

Joseph Morris Doss, Bishop of the Episcopal Church and the Minor family's pastor and friend, confirmed that Mrs. Minor was no longer being administered medications other than those for pain management.

"She is not doing well," the bishop said last week. "The cancer has spread from her breasts, to her brain, to her spine, and a mass on the outside of her lung. She is no longer receiving medication for any of the cancer, only for pain and discomfort."

Minor is currently attempting to obtain furlough to visit his wife. Attorneys close to Minor's case fear that the furlough request will not be granted due to the political scandal surrounding Minor's two trials and his subsequent imprisonment.


Read the whole article here:

See the rest of the The Permanent Republican Majority Series and Related Raw Story Articles:

Part One - The Political Prisoner

Part Two - Exclusive interview with jailed governor's daughter, Dana Siegelman

Part Three - Running Elections from the White House

Part Four - How Bush pick helped prosecute top Democrat-backed judge

Alabama station drops 60 Minutes expose on Don Siegelman prosecution

Interview with Dana Jill Simpson and alleged Rove smear campaign

Karl Rove's Next Move: A million dollar home on Florida's Emerald Coast

Part Five - Mississippi Justice: Bush US Attorney targeted my wife, supporters and friends

Part Six: Break-ins plague targets of US Attorneys

Justice Department investigating two US Attorneys for political prosecution

Follow Larisa Alexandrovna on Twitter: