Judge refuses conflict claim in tax fraud case

Sunday, January 25, 2009 | 4:52 p.m. CST

GALENA, Kan. — A Joplin man charged with tax fraud can pay the legal fees of his co-defendants and those co-defendants can share defense attorneys, a federal judge has determined.

U.S. District Judge Monti Belot denied a motion earlier this month by federal prosecutors seeking a court hearing on whether allowing defense attorneys to represent multiple clients in the case created a conflict of interest.

They also questioned whether Gary Hall should be allowed to pay the legal bills for his co-defendants. Belot wrote that while he was concerned if that was happening it didn't automatically create a conflict.

"The court knows all the lawyers in this case, each of whom is highly ethical and will zealously represent the interests of, and only of, his clients," Belot wrote.

Hall, 66, of rural Joplin, is president and owner of Galena, Kan.-based Sunflower Supply Co. Hall, seven other people and three businesses face a 43-count federal indictment alleging multiple counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Prosecutors claim the group committed $25 million in tobacco tax fraud against Oklahoma and American Indian tribes.

Other defendants include Thomas A. Grantham, of Joplin; Keith D. Noe, of Joplin; Justine Boyes, of Galena; Danny R. Davis, of Galena; Jeremy W. Hooker, of Salina, Okla.; Justice M. Berry, of Joplin; and James W. Coble, of Galena. Sunflower Supply Co., Joplin-based Discount Tobacco Warehouse and Rebel Industries Inc. are also named in the indictment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mona Furst in November requested the hearing on potential conflicts, noting that Jim Pratt represents both Hall and Sunflower Supply Co.; Michael Shultz represents Rebel Industries and defendant James Coble; and Robin Fowler represents Discount Tobacco Warehouse and defendant Justin Boyes.

"Conflicts of interest arise whenever an attorney's loyalties are divided, and an attorney who cross-examines those from whom he has previously obtained privileged information inherently encounters divided loyalties," Furst wrote in her motion.

Belot sided with defense attorneys, writing: "The only apparent joint representation is that some individual defendants and their respective corporations are represented by the same attorney.

"Joint representation of a corporation and its officer, in and of itself, does not create a conflict," he wrote.

Separately, the judge denied the prosecutors' motion to designate the case as complex, but he agreed to give both sides more time to prepare for trial. The trial was to begin Jan. 13 and a new date hasn't been scheduled.

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