Columbus Lawyer Charged in 40 Count Indictment
MAY 22 -- SAVANNAH, GA – Joseph D. Newman, First Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, announced that a federal grand jury sitting in Macon, Georgia, returned a forty-count indictment against Columbus attorney, John Mark Shelnutt, age 46. He was charged with Conspiracy to Launder Money in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(h), Money Laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code Section 1956, Aiding and Abetting a Cocaine Conspiracy, in violation of Title 21 United States Code, Section 846, Attempted Bribery of a Federal Official, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 201, Witness Tampering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1512, Failure to File Cash Reporting Forms, in violation of Title 31, United States Code, Section 5331, and Making False Statements to an FBI Agent, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001.
Newman, who is Acting U.S. Attorney on this particular case, stated that the indictment stems from a lengthy investigation of the Torrance Hill drug organization which operated in Columbus, Georgia between 2004 through 2006. In that case, DEA agents seized over 270 kilograms of cocaine and more than $740,000 in cash.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia prosecuted the case against Hill and his conspirators, but recused their office from the current case due to a conflict.
Rodney G. Benson, Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the DEA Atlanta Field Division (AFD) commended the agents that worked on this long-running investigation. Benson stated, “This investigation would not have been possible without the cooperation of the various participating agencies. This indictment demonstrates that no one is above the law."
The indictment charges that beginning in 2005 and continuing until 2008, Shelnutt participated in a conspiracy to launder proceeds of Hill’s drug organization. He is also charged with directly aiding and abetting Hill’s drug organization. Shelnutt was also charged in 31 substantive counts of money laundering, three counts of false statement, two counts of failure to file cash reporting forms, one count of attempted bribery, and one count of witness tampering. If convicted of the drug conspiracy charges, Shelnutt faces a statutory penalty of 10 years to life imprisonment and a $4 million fine. If convicted on the money laundering charges, Shelnutt faces a statutory penalty of up to 20 years and a fine of $500,000 on each count.
Newman stressed that an indictment is only an accusation and is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the Government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The case was investigated by the Columbus, Georgia Offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division.
The United States is being represented in this case by Assistant United States Attorneys Charlie Bourne and David Stewart of the Augusta Office of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia.
DEA AFD SAC Benson encourages parents, along with their children, to educate themselves about the dangers of legal and illegal drugs by visiting DEA’s interactive websites at www.justhinktwice.com and www.dea.gov