An attorney for Jonathan Bolar, the former Gretna city councilman, pointed Tuesday to a brief email exchange that she said proves federal prosecutors offered Bolar a plea bargain before his 2010 extortion trial — a deal that supposedly would have entailed far less prison time than the 17 years Bolar is now serving after a jury convicted him on 13 counts.
Bolar is asking a judge to set aside his sentence on the grounds that he received bad advice from his previous defense attorney, Marion Floyd. He says that when he rejected the plea deal, he believed the stakes at trial would be far lower than they actually were.
Bolar claims Floyd’s handling of his case amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel, depriving him of his Sixth Amendment rights.
Federal prosecutors and Floyd both have denied a plea bargain was on the table. Floyd, in a recent court filing, said Bolar had been “adamant that he wanted to go to trial.”
But Bolar’s newly appointed appellate attorney, Robin Schulberg, filed a motion Tuesday in federal court citing a “newly discovered” email exchange between Bolar and Floyd, which she said “proves that the government made a plea offer.”
In the February 2010 exchange, made about a month before Bolar’s trial began, Floyd wrote to his client about a discussion he’d had with Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Coman.
“In our spirited conversation, I told him that you are interested in a deal wherein you plead to the tax cases only,” Floyd wrote. “In exchange for that deal, I told him that you have information that will make the current Jefferson Parish cases look like ‘kindergarten play.’ ”
Coman was “amused” by the offer “but refused,” Floyd wrote.
“However, if you choose, we will ask his supervisors if the original deal — one honest services fraud felony count and one tax count — is still available,” Floyd wrote.
Bolar responded to Floyd’s note the next day from his BlackBerry, saying he didn’t think Coman “can make that decision” and suggesting their “proposal” be directed instead to Fred Harper, a senior prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“Also speak to them about pushing our case back sixty days because of the election,” Bolar added, referring to the 2010 re-election bid that he would lose to challenger Milton Crosby.
Schulberg, citing Floyd’s mention of “the original deal,” argues she’s entitled to the production of certain FBI documents that “would show that the government was willing to make substantial sentencing concessions in exchange for Bolar’s cooperation.”
She said the documents would help her prepare for an upcoming hearing before Magistrate Daniel Knowles III that will determine whether the government offered Bolar a plea deal involving a sentence of 12 to 18 months and whether Floyd misrepresented his client’s sentencing exposure. Bolar claims Floyd told him he faced between 40 and 44 months behind bars if convicted at trial — an assertion Floyd denies.
“Bolar seeks the FBI documents to prove that the government wanted his cooperation enough to cite Ellenese Brooks-Simms when asked what he could expect in exchange for cooperation,” Schulberg wrote, referring to the former Orleans Parish School Board member who received a substantially reduced sentence in 2010 for helping the feds convict Mose Jefferson, the eldest brother and chief political strategist of former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson.
Harper, the senior prosecutor, has dismissed the purported plea offer as “highly improbable.”
“I did not and would never have offered Bolar a plea deal involving 12-18 months incarceration, nor would I have recommended acceptance of such an offer, which would have been an unacceptable, unrealistic proposition in view of the significant evidence against Bolar on the extortion and other charges,” Harper wrote in a recent court filing. “Indeed, such an offer would have strayed so far from promoting the interests of justice as to have been preposterous.”
Bolar served on the Gretna City Council between 2001 and 2010. He was convicted of extorting money from constituents by insisting he be paid off to ensure various business decisions by the council.
U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, who presided over Bolar’s trial, recused himself from future proceedings earlier this summer after Schulberg complained he had “expressed a firm opinion” during Bolar’s sentencing hearing “that would cause a reasonable person to question (his) impartiality.”
Africk, in handing down a sentence that exceeded the recommended guidelines range in the case, derided Bolar’s trial testimony as “replete with blatant lies.”
“Your attempt to subvert the judicial process failed, and the cloth of deception that you attempted to weave became tattered and bedraggled,” Africk wrote in his explanation of the sentence.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman is now overseeing the case.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.