Georgia legislator pleads guilty to federal money laundering charges in Atlanta

Georgia State Rep.Ron Sailor, Jr. pleaded guilty this week to federal money laundering charges in Atlanta. All the local news media covered the story. (The picture on the left is Sailor and his Atlanta criminal defense lawyer Bruce Maloy.) Bill Rankin provides a good summary of the investigation and the plea in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Now we know why Sailor has missed so many votes in the Georgia General Assembly – the government told him to. Federal prosecutors apparently instructed Sailor not to vote during the time he was cooperating with the government to avoid any appearance that the feds (a Republican controlled Justice Department) were telling Sailor how to vote. I am not sure how his constituents feel about that, or how silencing a reliable Democratic vote may have affected pending legislation. Because Sailor had not entered a guilty plea until this week, he would not have been prevented from holding his seat and voting on legislation. Interesting issue, but unlikely to get any attention. Another interesting issue is why Sailor was approached by this undercover agent. What led them to Sailor? Was it another cooperating witness? Or, did they just chose him at random?

U.S. Attorney David Nahmias told reporters that Sailor has been cooperating with law enforcement in an ongoing investigation into public corruption in Georgia. Apparently, he’s been cooperating for several months while his arrest was kept under seal. Nahmias described Sailor’s cooperation as “useful.” Anyone who follows Georgia politics would not be surprised if there are additional legislators under investigation for violating various federal laws. The dome may be gold, but it’s certainly not pure.

As with most plea agreements in federal court, Sailor is not guaranteed any specific sentence. The amount of time he will have to spend in federal custody will be determined by the judge after a Presentence Investigation Report is prepared by the U.S. Probation Office. The judge will consider the federal sentencing guidelines, but ultimately make his decision based on the sentencing factors set forth in the federal criminal code (18 U.S.C. 3553).

I am sure Sailor and his defense attorneys are hoping that the government will reward him for his cooperation by filing a “5K” motion before he is sentenced. “5K” refers to a section in the federal sentencing guidelines that rewards a defendant with a possible reduction in his sentence for providing “substantial assistance” to the government. Whether the defendant has provided “substantial assistance” is always up to the government. If a “5K” motion is filed, the judge can disregard any mandatory minimums and impose a reasonable sentence. That usually means the defendant will get less time. Although the government attorney usually makes a recommendation, the amount of the reduction is ultimately up to the judge.

Now that Sailor’s plea is public, we should soon see if his cooperation results in any arrests. I expect the feds will likely wait until after the legislative session if they intend to charge any other state representative. But after March, who knows…

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