Court Of Appeals Affirms Tony Nelson's Convictions On Corruption Charges
Jacksonville, FL - U.S. Attorney Robert E. O'Neill announces that the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit today affirmed the convictions of former Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPort) Chairman Tony Devaughan Nelson on thirty-six corruption-related charges, including bribery, money laundering, honest services mail fraud, and making a false statement to the FBI. The evidence at trial established that, as Chairman, Nelson had demanded and accepted $143,500 in bribes from a dredging contractor at JAXPort. Nelson is serving a 40-month prison sentence.
Nelson argued on appeal that his convictions should be vacated because the federal fraud and bribery statutes under which he was convicted are unconstitutionally vague, the district court improperly instructed the jury on the applicable law, and the court improperly admitted the testimony of JAXPort's director of procurement. The ACLU Foundation of Florida, Inc., and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers also filed a brief on Nelson's behalf as amicus curiae.
After hearing oral argument, the Court of Appeals issued a split decision, with the majority holding that the challenged statutes "gave Nelson adequate notice of the conduct they prohibit," that the district court's instructions correctly "propelled [the jury] to look to Nelson's state of mind" in taking payments in exchange for his influence, and that the challenged evidence was relevant and not unfairly prejudicial.
The appeal was handled by Assistant United States Attorneys David P. Rhodes and Susan H. Rothstein-Youakim. The underlying case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Mac D. Heavener, III, and Mark B. Devereaux, and was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.