Court Reporter Pleads Guilty to Charges Related to Obstruction of Justice
ABINGDON, VIRGINIA -- - United States Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy announced today that Ernest Julius Benko pled guilty in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Abingdon to charges related to the obstruction of a federal criminal investigation..
Ernest Julius Benko, 67, of Norton, Va., entered a plea of guilty to one count of obstruction of an official proceeding and one count of conspiracy to cause false statements and obstruct an official proceeding. Benko faces a potential maximum sentence of up to 25 years imprisonment and a potential fine of $500,000.
"Mr. Benko deliberately impeded a federal investigation,” United States Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy said today. “Lying to federal investigators is a serious crime and will be vigorously pursued by this United States Attorney’s Office.”
According to evidence presented at the guilty plea hearing by Assistant United States Attorney Zachary T. Lee, between 2008 and 2013, Ernest Julius Benko was employed as a private investigator, videographer, notary public, and a court reporter for the Circuit Court of Wise County, Virginia and the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Virginia.
During this time, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Virginia State Police had an ongoing investigation regarding attorney Robert Stuart Collins’ involvement in the illegal possession and distribution of controlled substances. In May 2009, Benko was hired by Collins to record sworn statements from individuals cooperating in the FBI and Virginia State Police’s investigation in which the witnesses were told to falsely represent that Collins had no involvement in anything that was illegal or unethical.
These false statements were conducted in order to obstruct the criminal investigation into Collins. One of the witnesses, whose statement Benko recorded, also was told to falsely state that he had been threatened by an FBI agent in order to secure his cooperation in the FBI's investigation. At the time of the taking of these false sworn statements, Benko was aware that Collins had a drug problem and had been involved in illegal activity that was the subject of the FBI and Virginia State Police’s criminal investigation. On September 13, 2012, Benko was interviewed by agents of the FBI and Virginia State Police. Benko falsely stated that he had no knowledge of Collins being involved in illicit drug use.
Sentencing has been set for September 10, 2013, at 1:30 p.m. in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Abingdon.
The investigation of this case was conducted by the Virginia State Police, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, and the Southwest Virginia Drug Task Force. Assistant United States Attorney Zachary T. Lee is prosecuting the case for the United States.