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Corruption Chronicles

Judge Overturns Jury Verdict In Bribery Case

A federal judge in Virginia overturned a jury verdict that would have helped taxpayers recover money from a corrupt contractor previously convicted for bribing public officials to obtain lucrative county contracts.

The contractor (Joe Stephens) has already served two years in prison for bribing officials in Virginia’s Buchanan County, among the nation’s poorest counties, and has forfeited $700,000 to the government in the criminal case. Evidence presented at his criminal trial indicated that he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to secure deals.

In a civil case earlier this year, a federal jury determined that the shady contractor over billed the county for cleanup work after a flood trashed the area in 2002. Jurors decided that Stephens’ companies charged taxpayers more than a reasonable value for its services. The county should be reimbursed half a million dollars, according to the citizens fulfilling their civic duty.

In overturning the verdict, U.S. District Judge James Jones found that there was not sufficient evidence for the jury to determine how much the crooked contractor had over billed the county. While his opinion acknowledges that the “undisputed payment of the bribes could have supported an inference that the companies inflated their contract prices,” the jurist writes that there was “no evidence by which a reasonable jury could have determined the allocation of such amounts.”

Judge Jones is a former Virginia State Senator who served on the Committee for Courts and Justice as well as the Democratic National Committee. Bill Clinton appointed him to the federal bench in the Western District of Virginia in 1996.


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