Jury finds extortion, not conspiracy by lawyer, former Lake City prosecutor

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A federal jury on Wednesday convicted a North Florida defense attorney of extorting money from a Lake City gambling hall operator, but acquitted him of conspiring with the former state prosecutor. region.

Dixie County Attorney Marion Michael O’Steen was indicted last year along with Jeff Siegmeister, who until 2019 was the elected prosecutor in the 3rd Judicial Circuit for seven counties in the state.

Siegmeister reached a plea deal in February and admitted two counts of conspiring with O’Steen to give his clients lighter treatment in exchange for bribes, as well as two separate crimes involving Siegmeister alone.

But after prosecutors spent days presenting evidence last week, Jacksonville jurors found O’Steen not guilty on two counts of conspiracy but guilty of extorting money from Andy Tong. , a federal informant whom Siegmeister had accused of running his gambling hall as illegal gambling. lodge.

“The reason we’re here is because he decided to extort Andy Tong,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Karase told jurors during the trial, calling Tong “the perfect guy to get away with.” take some”.

Tong paid O’Steen $60,000, in two installments, to have a case involving him with two business partners resolved through pretrial intervention. In the arrangement, Siegmeister’s office would defer, then drop the case without a trial or a guilty verdict, but keep the property police seized in the gambling hall.

Tong, who was told jurors had previously dealt with law enforcement officers, told a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent of the arrangement and in 2018 agreed to have the FBI secretly record his conversations with O ‘Steen.

In a recording played for the jury, however, O’Steen flatly denied a suggestion by Tong that the money would be used for gain, saying it was merely a bill for his work.

“It’s not a bribe at all,” O’Steen said. “It’s not like you’re thinking.”

The state’s attorney’s office formally dismissed charges against Tong in 2020, and in December filed a federal lawsuit against O’Steen and Siegmeister, claiming the men conspired together and violated his constitutional rights. .

Prosecutors in O’Steen’s trial also presented evidence regarding other affairs with O’Steen’s clients, but this related to one of the conspiracy charges that jurors dismissed.

In addition to extortion, jurors also found O’Steen guilty of failing to file a report required by the US Treasury Department when a person receives more than $10,000 in cash.

Despite the verdict, O’Steen has yet to be officially convicted of a crime.

During the trial, O’Steen’s defense team asked U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard for a judgment acquitting him of extortion based on a legal argument to be decided by the judge and not by the jury.

Howard had not ruled on Wednesday and had told both sides to return to court Friday morning to hear O’Steen’s case.

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