Jerry Wayne Cox, a Pentecostal pastor with ties to former 22nd Judicial District Attorney Walter Reed, pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to one count of structuring transactions to evade federal reporting requirements.
U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown asked the 72-year-old Franklinton resident numerous times whether he understood the charge against him and whether he was pleading guilty of his own free will, without any promises or threats.
Cox, dressed in a charcoal suit, his gray hair slicked back, stood next to his attorney and spoke in a firm voice.
“I wish I had a promise, but they didn’t give me none,” Cox said. “I’m guilty.”
In August, the longtime pastor of Faith Tabernacle Church had entered a plea of not guilty to the single count. But he had been charged in a bill of information, almost always a sign that a defendant is working out a plea agreement.
Brown told Cox that the maximum penalty he faces is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine and reminded him that she can impose the maximum.
“Yes, your honor,” he replied.
The judge set a Jan. 28 date for sentencing, saying that a presentencing investigation and report will be done before then.
Cox, who had mainly limited his comments to “yes” and “no” during the rearraignment, raised his right hand as the proceedings drew to an end.
“I ask for mercy,” he said.
Brown said he would have an opportunity to make that request at a later date.
A summary of the government’s case, signed by Cox, shed little new light on the accusations against him. Less than four pages in length, it said the government would have shown at a trial that Cox was aware that financial institutions are required to report transactions over $10,000.
The government said it would have shown that Cox engaged in a pattern of withdrawals — or had others do so — under that threshold to avoid the reporting requirement. Prosecutors said the transactions were structured by Cox as part of a pattern of illegal activity involving more than $100,000 in a 12-month period, specifically from Sept. 20, 2011, to Aug. 4, 2012.
Cox’s attorney, Eddie Castaing, said the charge to which Cox pleaded guilty had no connection to Reed, who was indicted in federal court in April on counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and making false statements on tax returns. Reed did not run for re-election last fall.
Castaing said Cox “made a mistake” in his bank transactions, and that his client will be cooperative and truthful with federal prosecutors under the terms of his plea agreement.
Asked if that cooperation had anything to do with the Reed case, Castaing said the allegations his client pled to Thursday “had nothing to do with the allegations against Walter Reed, at least not at this point.”
Whether that changes is “up to the government,” he said.
Reed’s attorney, Rick Simmons, said there is no connection between the charge against Cox and his client.
Reed’s trial is set for Jan. 11.
Reed does have ties to Cox, but they mostly revolve around Reed’s private law practice. As district attorney, Reed used his connections with Cox to drum up personal injury work on the side, an arrangement that was detailed in an interview Reed gave to a Pentecostal magazine that mentioned a $2.4 million settlement for the survivors of two women who were killed in a crash with an 18-wheeler. Reed recused his office from prosecuting the truck driver so he could take up the civil suit.
Reed dropped Cox’s name into a letter he sent to Pentecostal preachers across the country in 2012 that trumpeted his personal injury work.
Reed also gave Cox’s church $25,000 from his campaign fund for its building fund, records show.
Part of the federal case against Reed involves his alleged conversion of campaign money to personal use, and it’s conceivable that prosecutors could claim his payment to Cox’s church was a finder’s fee of some kind. Reed has denied that it was.
Cox, who was accompanied by his wife, stood next to his attorney outside the federal courthouse, smiling broadly but making no comment. Castaing said Cox would have nothing to say while he awaits sentencing.
Asked what Cox’s congregation would think about the guilty plea, Castaing said the congregation has great faith in their pastor.
“He’s all about mercy; he’s all about justice and forgiveness, and that’s what he expects from everyone,” Castaing said.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.