Appeals court upholds organized crime convictions of three
By Rob Moritz
Arkansas News Bureau
A federal appeals panel on Tuesday upheld the gambling and drug convictions of three people, including a Cabot bookmaker and a former North Little Rock alderman.
The three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at St. Louis did reverse George Wylie Thompson’s conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm, saying his constitutional rights against double jeopardy were violated. The court said the reversal would not affect the Cabot man’s 10-year federal prison sentence.
In 2010, Thompson, former North Little Rock alderman Samuel Baggett and reputed mobster Ralph Francis Deleo of Boston were each convicted of offenses connected to illegal gambling, drug trafficking, firearms and marriage fraud.
In 2011, Thompson was sentenced 10 years in prison for his role in transporting nearly five pounds of cocaine from Los Angeles to Boston, with a stop in Little Rock.
Baggett was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison on weapons charges and for making false statements to federal agents.
Deleo was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
In their appeals, the three argued evidence gained through federal wiretaps should not have been allowed. Thompson also argued his right to be free of double jeopardy was violated.
In a unanimous decision written by Judge Michael Melloy of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the court said the wiretaps were correctly admitted into evidence.
"The district courts did not commit clear error in finding the government’s wiretap application supported by probable cause," Melloy wrote in the 28-page decision.
The appeals court said that at the end of trial, Thompson, who was on trial with Baggett, moved for judgement of acquittal on all charges against him. The district judge denied the motion, except on the felon in possession of a firearm charge, which he took under advisement and then granted.
After Baggett called several witnesses, the court recessed and the judge said he thought he had made a mistake in granting Thompson’s motion. He then asked attorneys to cite case law on whether his decision could be reversed.
The next day, the judge determined reversal was appropriate and denied Thompson’s motion for acquittal on the weapon’s charge.
Thompson was later found guilty of that charge, as well as the others.
"Once Thompson had rested his case, relying at least in part on the district court’s judgment of acquittal, double jeopardy attached and the reversal of that judgment was a constitutional violation," Melloy wrote.
Another former North Little Rock alderman, Cary Gaines, was indicted with Thompson and Baggett. He pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge in December 2010 and was sentenced to four months in prison in a public corruption case involving bid-rigging on North Little Rock public works projects.