One Con-man, One Idealist, One Deceiver

This week, a Mississippi Sheriff is arrested by state officials on extortion charges one day after being arrested by federal officials on separate extortion charges; Congressman/Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich vows to legalize medical marijuana if elected; and Swisher County Texas District Attorney Terry McEachern faces possible disbarment over his role in suppressing evidence in the Tulia drug debacle that arrested 39 innocent Black residents.

August 1 -- Mississippi's Clarion-Ledger reports: Tunica County Sheriff Jerry Ellington was charged Thursday with extorting $2,500 from a Jackson bail bonding company just a day after facing similar charges in federal court.

Ellington, elected in 1999, is accused of demanding money from Hampton Company National Surety of Jackson, which issues bonds throughout the state, including Tunica.

Ellington took a $2,500 check from the company when he met with bondsman Marty McKee on June 6 at the Flying J truck stop in Rankin County, Rankin County prosecutor Richard Wilson said.

Ellington promised the bonding company he would steer business its way in exchange for the payoff, Wilson said.

If convicted, he faces a maximum five-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine.

His arrest in Rankin County came just one day after Ellington was arrested on federal extortion and bribery charges.

He is accused of soliciting and accepting more than $5,000 in kickbacks from a deputy between June 2002 and Jan. 3 in return for promoting the deputy and giving him a pay raise, according to the federal indictment.

The promotion put the deputy in a position to steal money from drug dealers and other people, the indictment said. The money was to be split with Ellington, the indictment said.

Ellington also took cash payoffs plus 30 percent of the premiums on every bond written by a bail bondsman in exchange for the bondsman's business, the indictment said. Those payoffs exceeded $5,000, the indictment said.

If convicted, Ellington faces up to 60 years in prison and a $1 million fine on the federal charges.

Ellington is the second Tunica County sheriff to face corruption charges in the past four years.

Former Sheriff John Pickett III was sentenced to a 20-month prison term after pleading guilty to extorting more than $86,000 from a bail bondsman. The conviction was one of 10 that came out of a federal corruption probe in Tunica County several years ago.

August 1 -- The San Francisco Examiner reports: Congressman Dennis Kucinich supports legalizing gay marriage, repealing the death penalty and the Patriot Act, withdrawing from the World Trade Organization and scrapping the North American Free Trade Agreement, implementing national ranked choice voting and publicly financed political campaigns, ending the occupation of Iraq, creating universal single-payer health care, forming a Department of Peace, cutting the Pentagon budget by 15 percent, legalizing medical marijuana and upholding legalized abortion. Those positions may not land the Ohio Democrat his party's presidential nomination, but they have a number of third-party and independent progressives solidly behind his candidacy.

August 2 -- The Austin American-Statesman reports: The West Texas district attorney who prosecuted those arrested in the controversial Tulia drug sting is under investigation by the State Bar of Texas for possible misconduct in his handling of the cases.

Bar disciplinary officials, who ordinarily do not discuss ongoing cases, would not acknowledge whether they are investigating Swisher County District Attorney Terry McEachern.

But McEachern revealed the existence of the investigation Thursday by asking the Swisher County Commissioners Court for $5,000 to help pay for his defense.

Commissioners in the county, south of Amarillo, declined to give McEachern the money.

In a case that has become emblematic of Texas justice gone awry, 46 people, 39 of them black, were arrested during a 1999 drug sting in the small Panhandle town of Tulia.

Many were convicted or pleaded guilty to charges built almost entirely on the word of undercover investigator Thomas Coleman.

The cases have since fallen apart amid charges of racism, sloppy police work and suppressed evidence.

In a scathing report issued in April, visiting Judge Ron Chapman said Coleman was a liar and McEachern and other law enforcement officials covered up evidence of Coleman's perjury and his criminal past to bolster his credibility and win convictions.

Jeff Blackburn, an Amarillo lawyer who has spent several years fighting to clear the Tulia defendants, called the investigation of McEachern good news. Rarely does the bar take action against prosecutors for misconduct, he said.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.

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