A New Orleans lawyer — sentenced to probation this year even after authorities found 20 pounds of marijuana in his apartment — began dabbling in interstate drug dealing last year after a former client fled the state owing him tens of thousands of dollars, according to court documents.
The lawyer, Cory S. Morton, who was disbarred by the Louisiana Supreme Court on Friday, pleaded guilty in June to a single count of money laundering and received two years of probation.
In exchange for his cooperation, Morton, 37, avoided a raft of felony drug charges he faced after federal and state law enforcement officials confiscated 16 vacuum-sealed bags of marijuana, dozens of prescription pills and more than $72,000 from his Magazine Street apartment in May.
Morton acknowledged violating several rules of professional conduct, and court papers filed in his disciplinary proceedings offer new details about his “scheme to distribute marijuana” from California to Texas.
For instance, the court filings reveal that Morton, whose father is a senior partner at Taggart Morton, worked for that New Orleans law firm for several years out of law school but was terminated in May 2009. “Since that date he has been a solo practitioner working personal injury claims, assisting small-business clients and working jointly on files with lawyers from the Taggart Morton firm,” the filings say.
The court record does not specify why Morton was let go from the firm, but it notes he had not had a prior disciplinary history before being suspended from practicing law in late June after his guilty plea.
The documents highlight an unnamed client who allegedly relocated to California without paying Morton $38,000 in attorney’s fees that he owed. “Because of the nature of his practice, this sum, if lost, would have a significant adverse impact on his ability to continue practicing,” the filings say.
In an effort to “generate funds,” the client who stiffed Morton supposedly thought up a scheme in which marijuana would be shipped from California to a drop box Morton set up on Magazine Street.
“Upon receipt of such deliveries, (Morton) would in turn deliver the package containing the drugs to a recipient who was said to be from Houston,” the documents say. “Out of the proceeds from the ‘transaction,’ (Morton) was paid sums of money to allow for the retirement of the previously owed attorney’s fees.”
However, Morton remained involved in drug dealing even after he had recouped the $38,000, the filings say. The operation began in December and ended in May with Morton’s arrest.
“His mental element was intentional,” the filings say.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service eventually took notice of the volume of packages being shipped to Morton’s drop box. A half-dozen of them aroused suspicion at the Loyola Avenue mail-processing center, and a federal judge signed a search warrant allowing authorities to open the packages, which were found to contain marijuana.
Undercover agents later delivered the packages to the drop box and conducted surveillance until Morton picked them up and loaded them into an SUV. Investigators followed him to his apartment and obtained a search warrant for the residence.
Inside, agents found wads of cash, marijuana and drug paraphernalia. In a closet, officers found a clear plastic bag with 61 blue pills of Valium.
Some $67,600 had been stuffed inside envelopes in a tuxedo bag.
A so-called consent proposal Morton signed, in which he acknowledged violating the rules of professional conduct, noted that he had been charged “only with the crime of money laundering” in connection with his “agreement to cooperate with law enforcement.”
It’s unclear whether anyone else has been charged as a result of Morton’s assistance.
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