Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Judge rejects bondsman’s plea change

By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
— A federal judge made short work of a bail bondsman’s quest to withdraw his guilty plea to conspiring to bribe a cop, rejecting as “factually unconvincing and legally inadequate” his arguments that new evidence showed his innocence.
U.S. District Judge Court Janet Bond Arterton denied the motion submitted by bondsman Paul Jacobs, 49, of Woodbridge, who pleaded guilty in October to conspiring to bribe a police officer but in March changed lawyers and wanted to bring the case to trial after all.
Arterton concluded, however, that Jacobs’ legal claims were nothing more than a “revised theory” of the facts of the case — in which he admitted paying a state police sergeant more than $12,000 to capture a fugitive so Jacobs could avoid forfeiting the bond — which fell far short of the legal threshold for withdrawing a plea.
Jacobs Monday said he would start preparing for sentencing, although he did want to talk to his attorney about the possibility of an appeal.
He continued to profess his innocence.
“I honestly thought it was a cop who was moonlighting with a couple of other cops who wanted to be paid in cash so they could avoid taxes,” said Jacobs. “I always believed it was a legitimate transaction, even to this day.”
Jacobs’ lawyer, Hartford-based attorney Jon L. Schoenhorn, did not return calls requesting comment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined comment.
The effort was viewed in legal circles as a long shot and a dangerous one if he were to successfully take the case to trial and lost. Arterton has a reputation of being painstakingly thorough at plea hearings and Jacobs last October made specific admissions of guilt to the crime to which he now professes innocence.
In her 11-page decision, the jurist quoted Jacobs’ own courtroom admissions and reflected, somewhat incredulously, on Jacobs’ claim that he only learned of the exculpatory evidence on which he was basing his plea withdrawal bid — conversations he had with the state police sergeant — after he pleaded guilty.
“Jacobs cannot reasonably claim ignorance of conversations to which he was a party,” Arterton wrote.
Jacobs’ argument was this: He was not guilty of bribery conspiracy because he believed he was paying a New Haven police officer to chase fugitives on his own time, not while on duty, and that the money was being used to pay informants, instead of lining the officer’s pocket. He offered excerpts from the secretly recorded conversations made by the FBI that he claimed supported his contention.
The sergeant, a state police employee, was secretly cooperating with the FBI in a probe of corruption in the New Haven Police Department. The head of the narcotics squad, former Lt. William “Billy” White, was arrested along with one of his detectives.
Jacobs, his father, Robert, and brother, Philip, also were arrested. All have pleaded guilty.
At a 2½-hour hearing last month, Jacobs abandoned his claim of ineffective counsel after it became clear he might have to waive his attorney-counsel confidentially with his old counsel, whom he claims pushed him to plead guilty and refused to even entertain taking the case to trial.
The three Jacobs males are scheduled to be sentenced in early June.
Jacobs Monday acknowledged he could face more jail time if he attempted to withdraw the plea and lost, since sentencing guidelines cut defendants breaks for acceptance of responsibility, a bump down he might no longer get.
“It’s something I knew. I have to say it was worth the gamble, I guess,” he said.

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