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Cassell pleads not guilty
Retired former Henry County sheriff H. Frank Cassell and his wife, Margaret, leave the Poff Federal Building in Roanoke on Monday. Cassell's attorney, John Lichtenstein, is shown at right. The man in the background is not identified.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Former Henry County sheriff H. Frank Cassell pleaded not guilty Monday morning to charges that he looked the other way while officers in his department engaged in alleged illegal activities.
Cassell, 12 former and current members of his department and seven residents were charged on Nov. 2 in a 50-page, 48-count federal indictment that includes allegations of racketeering conspiracy, obstruction of justice, misprision, money laundering, firearms offenses, drug charges, perjury and other charges.
Cassell faces five counts alleging two counts of obstruction of justice, his participation in a money laundering scheme, making a false statement to a federal agency and misprision, or failure to report a felony.
Attending the hearing with his wife, Margaret Cassell, and defense attorneys John E. Lichtenstein and John Fishwick of the Roanoke-based Lichtenstein Fishwick & Johnson, PLC, the former sheriff spoke briefly, only stating his full name, address and birth date during the arraignment hearing in U.S. District Court in Roanoke on Monday.
"Not guilty," Cassell replied when asked for his plea.
"All we can say is we're glad the process can now begin," Lichtenstein said following the hearing. "We're looking forward to getting started" and will shift through the estimated 700 hours of recordings "with vigor."�
Lichtenstein was referring to audiotapes gathered during the investigation.
If convicted, Cassell could face a maximum 53-year sentence and/or a $1.25 million fine.
Wearing a blue jacket, gray trousers, white shirt and red tie, Cassell appeared at ease, speaking to co-defendants former major James Keaton and deputies Steven Preston and Walter Hairston as they entered the courtroom.
Keaton, Preston and Hairston also pleaded not guilty for their alleged part in the scandal.
Hairston, who is charged with two counts obstruction of justice, racketeering conspiracy and making a false statement, could face a $1 million fine and up to 50 years in prison.
Facing allegations of obstruction of justice, perjury and possession of a stolen firearm, Keaton could face a fine of $1 million and up to a 40-year jail term.
Charged with two counts obstruction of justice and one count drug conspiracy, Preston could receive up to a 45-year jail term and $1.5 million fine.
James Vaught, a former sergeant with the sheriff's office, also appeared in court Monday.
Surrounded by U.S. Marshals, Vaught also spoke briefly before he and a team of marshals left the courtroom.
Tom Bondurant, criminal chief in the U.S. Attorney's office, explained that Vaught has filed a plea agreement in which he will plead guilty to racketeering conspiracy.
However, because Vaught's attorney is hospitalized and was unable to attend Monday's hearing, Vaught entered a not guilty plea, Bondurant said.
William Randall "Randy" Reed, one of seven individuals charged in the indictment, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy in a plea agreement that calls for the dismissal of drug charges and a sentence reduction.
He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years and/or a $250,000 fine in connection with these charges, with sentencing from Pennsylvania to be transferred to Virginia on drug-related charges there.
Also, on Monday afternoon other defendants in the case, Jonathan Roberson, Mark Roberson, Carlton Riley, Bradley Scott Martin, Kandy Hubbard Deshazo and Travis Wilkins, were arraigned, and all pleaded not guilty.
With more than 700 hours of audiotapes, and some individual tapes lasting four hours, Bondurant estimated that trying the cases now without having a chance to go through the tapes could take four months, and that is unrealistic.
He suggested continuing the case through late January or early February, when the court will consider motions related to the case.
"I believe things will shake out by then" to a more realistic timetable for the court proceedings, Bondurant said, referring to what motions may be made after listening to tapes and examining other evidence.
Other defendants in the case also will be arraigned this week. Ginger Lewis, Patrick Martin, Ronald Trantham, Jason Burton, Cornelia Cox and David Allan King are scheduled to appear today in U.S. District Court in Roanoke. Robert Adams and Wilbert Brown have Wednesday court dates.