Attorneys for Mobile County License Commissioner Kim Hastie got some good news today, as a federal judge ruled an 18th count in a long list of charges would be severed from Hastie’s upcoming public corruption case.
The charge of tax evasion was first added in a two-count superseding indictment filed in late January, alleging Hastie and her husband, John Melvin Hastie Jr., attempted to defraud the United States through “craft” and “trickery.”The indictment claimed the couple attempted to hide approximately $58,000 from the Internal Revenue Service through fraudulent tax returns and two false Statements of Economic Interest to the Alabama Ethics Commission, which political office holders are required to submit.
According to court documents, that tie to Hastie office was the link federal prosecutors were using to tack on the 18th count in the series of indictments, but an order from U.S. Judge Ginny Granade said the charges of tax fraud were not directly correlated to the two conspiracies alleged to have originated in the Licence Commission under Hastie’s supervision.
“The indictment does not indicate Hastie and Hastie Jr. committed the alleged tax offenses in furtherance of the alleged conspiracy at the License Commission,” Granade’s order reads. “The the disclosure (economic interest) statements alone do not bring Count 18 into the scope of the alleged conspiracy at the License Commission. As a result, the Court concludes (it) and Hastie Jr. must be severed from Counts One through Seventeen.”
Despite granting the motion for severance related to the final count, Granade left a 17th count related to a conspiracy to disseminate public information for a political purpose in tact, meaning Hastie will have to defend it a trial that could see jury selection as early as April.
“We’re very happy,” said Hastie’s Defense Attorney Neil Hanley. “We knew that count had no business being in this indidm ctnt, and it was wrong for prosecutors to add that.”
Hanley told Lagniappe Tuesday he wasn’t “worried about the work load” as much as he was the improper nature prosecutors attempted to include the 18th Count.
A separate request for severance filed by attorneys for Deputy Licence Commission Romona Yeager was also denied, meaning the two will face trial together. Yeager was charged with nine counts of public corruption in the original indictment in from November 2014, all of which were related some of Hastie’s original 16 charges.
In her order, Granade cited Rule 8(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which states that defendants may be charged together “if they are alleged to have participated in the same act or transaction, or in the same series of acts or transactions, constituting an offense or offenses.”
Granade also said there is “a preference” in the federal system for “joint trials of defendants who are indicted together.”
The legal troubles for Hastie are all tied to a legislative initiative to abolish her current office and consolidated with the Mobile County Revenue Commission, which she has reported will save taxpayers at least $1 million.
Since her indictment, supporters of the consolidation — including State Rep. Margie Wilcox — have said they hope the bill can still be passed. According to a recent legislative report from a local law firm, that bill is currently scheduled to be introduced for a vote during the 2015 Legislative session.