Jonathan Lawrence Oneal will not face incarceration despite pleading guilty to tampering with jury in the tax evasion case against Mobile County Revenue Commissioner Kim Hastie and her husband earlier this year.
In August, Oneal pleaded to attempted jury tampering at the behest of Hastie’s husband, John Melvin Hastie Jr., who was also Oneal’s coworker and supervisor at Cooper Marine & Timberlands.
According to the plea agreement, Oneal admitted that the same day a list of 103 potential jurors was made available to the parties in that case, he received a cell phone call from “one of the defendants.” In subsequent statements accessible in the court record, that “defendant” was identified as Hastie Jr.
According to an original affidavit from FBI Special Agent Eric Lawson, Oneal was asked by Hastie Jr. if he knew any of the potential jurors. Oneal then made contact with the spouse of one of the potential jurors, identified only as “JT.”
Oneal claimed he only asked JT to “pray for the Hasties,” but Lawson’s affidavit alleged other witnesses claimed he discussed some details of the case and his presumption that Hastie Jr. was “a good man,” innocent of the charges.
The case, which accused the Hasties of conspiring to conceal more than $58,000 of income from the IRS on five separate occasions, was dropped by federal prosecutors over the summer after a trial ended with a hung jury last May.
Kim Hastie’s attorney, Neil Hanley was in the courtroom throughout Oneal’s sentencing on Thursday, but he was representing a client in the same courtroom for an unrelated matter just before the proceedings began.
Since the charges were dropped and Kim Hastie was acquitted of 16 separate charges in a corruption case, the Hasties’ legal troubles appear to be over, but Oneal’s seem to just be beginning. Though he escaped the 10-month jail sentence recommended by federal prosecutors, his felony conviction over the jury tampering charges mean he’ll face a $3,000 fine and three years of supervised probation.
In the courtroom today, Oneal’s defense attorney Peter Madden said there was no way Oneal knew the severity of the crime he was committing or the consequences for it. Madden maintained that his client only “did what he was accused of, as a favor to a friend.”
Madden did acknowledge that the potential juror and his wife were concerned about discussing the trial, but he said Oneal never made any threats or used intimidation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean P. Costello, who prosecuted the case, said he agreed with the assessment of Oneal’s character and believed he posed no risk of recidivism. However, Costello sought prison time for Oneal out of “respect for the law.”
“This undermines and threatens the proceedings of everything in this court, which is based on the public’s trust and the system’s integrity,” Costello said. “Unless there’s a significant punishment, some other defendant may be tempted to weigh the sentence [they could be facing] with the sentence of a jury tampering case.”
U.S. Judge Callie Granade agreed with Costello’s concern over the court’s integrity, but explained the punishment would fit “the person that instigated the conduct.”
“That’s not who I have before me,” she said of Oneal. “I don’t think he knew the severity of what he was doing, but I think the person who contacted him probably knew.”
Ultimately, Granade ruled that a fine and felony conviction was a sufficient punishment for Oneal “doing a favor he was asked.” But, despite previous court records suggesting Hastie Jr. had a clear involvement in the jury tampering, his name was never mentioned during Oneal’s sentencing.
In fact, the only charge in Oneal’s unsealed indictment suggesting another party was involved was a conspiracy charge related to the jury tampering. By its very definition, a conspiracy has to involve at least two persons.
However, the conspiracy charge, along with a third allegation of lying to a federal agent, were dropped as a part of Oneal’s plea agreement.
Updated on Nov. 9, 2015, at 11:44 a.m. to correct the amount of the fine Oneal was sentenced to pay.
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