It’s been a little more than a year since FBI agents raided the office of Mobile County License Commissioner Kim Hastie, and after two high-profile losses in court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a motion on Friday seeking to dismiss her only remaining charge.
The charge, originally added to her corruption case in a superseding indictment in January, alleged that Hastie and her husband, John Melvin Hastie Jr., attempted to hide approximately $58,000 from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) through fraudulent tax returns and two false Statements of Economic Interest to the Alabama Ethics Commission.
The allegations were related to income Hastie Jr. garnered from brokering timber sales — income unreported on the Hasties’ 2009 or 2010 joint income tax returns. Hastie’s attorneys said she didn’t know about the income or prepare the tax returns, while Hastie Jr.’s attorneys called it an honest mistake.
The case was tried in May, but ended with a mistrial after a hung jury failed to reach a decision. There were several rumors that the federal government would drop the charges and forgo and retrial, but as recently as last week jury selection proceedings appeared to be moving forward.
On Saturday, Hastie’s attorney Neil Hanley said the government “getting their butt whipped” in two previous trials could have motivated their decision to drop the remaining charges.
“I think they did the same thing I did, they reread the evidence and saw there was nothing there,” Hanley said. “They had no case. I’ve been doing this about 40 years, and it still amazes me how well the criminal justice system works.”
The motion to drop the charges still has to be approved by U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose before the legal battle is officially over for the Hasties. For that reason, the couple did not give statements to the media during a brief press conference this morning.
Local attorney Jeff Deen, who represented Hastie Jr., said the tax charges, which were severed into a separate case by DuBose earlier this year, were only thrown in “to enhance” the political charges Hastie faced in a separate public corruption trial.
Haste was acquitted of 16 charges related to conspiracy and extortion in her office in June and was only convicted of a minor violation related to her efforts to distribute more than 30,000 email address from a state motor vehicle database to the campaign of Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson in August 2013.
Deen and Hanley have both said previously that the expenses of litigating the separate tax trial cost the government far more than the Hasties failed to disclose on their taxes.
“It is a tremendous cost to the taxpayers, and I’m sure that factored into their decision,” Deen said. “Usually a tax case goes through the IRS, but this case was not run up the flagpole to the Department of Justice and to the IRS. This was a special type of conspiracy, that they can bring, but it didn’t mesh with the overall indictment.”
Deen said, in his opinion, the case should have been handled by the IRS to begin with.
The only remaining piece of the year-long investigation of Hastie is a jury tampering case against one of Hastie Jr.’s coworkers, Jonathan Lawrence Oneal. Oneal was implicated by a juror on the first day of trial in May.
The juror told the judge he’d been approached by Oneal and asked about the Hasties’ tax trial.
Oneal’s case was in court for a pretrial conference on Friday, but so far no dates for jury selection have been discussed. It’s also unclear if the termination of the tax case, which spawned the allegations of Oneal’s contact with potential jurors, will affect Oneal’s case.
On Monday, United States Attorney Kenyen Brown released the following statement on the dismissal of the Hasties’ charges.
“The great bulk of the charges against Mrs. Hastie involved allegations of public corruption. With the exception of one public corruption charge, a jury consisting of Msr. Hastie’s peers returned a not guilty verdict in her favor,” Brown said. “Given this result, a further pursuit of the ancillary charge of conspiracy to commit tax evasion against Kimberly Hastie and John Hastie, Jr., is not in the best interest of justice at this time.”
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