Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Why didn’t feds take this case?

You may have wondered while you were following the corruption trial of Jay and Kelly Campbell in Lonoke County why the U.S. attorney’s office in Little Rock didn’t prosecute the couple, along with two shady bail bondsmen, who will be tried later.
Did the Campbells have friends in high places who protected them from federal indictments — specifically, a good friend in the U.S. attorney’s office who has received favors from Campbell, and an FBI agent who also knows him well?

Here was a sensational case involving public corruption, drugs, thefts, misuse of prisoners — a law-enforcement system that was totally out of control as former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell broke the law more often than the criminals he was supposed to be holding in the city jail, while his wife joined him in the crime spree and dated some of those prisoners.

Prosecuting Attorney Lona McCastlain had hundreds of othercases to deal with, so you’d think the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI would have gladly taken on this high-profile case, but no, they said they weren’t interested.

It’s crazy stuff, but serious enough that a Lonoke County jury in Cabot last week found them guilty and recommended long prison sentences. He received 40 years, while she got 20. With good behavior, he could go free in 10 years, and she’ll be out in about three and a half years.

The Campbells could still win on appeal, but had they been convicted in federal court, they would have served almost their entire sentence since there’s no parole in the federal system. So they’re lucky the feds didn’t indict them.

Two law-enforcement officials have told us it was improper for a deputy U.S. attorney named Robert Govar to let Lonoke prisoners clear his land before he built his house in Lonoke.

Govar testified during the trial that he asked his pal Campbell to work on the land. Campbell used Act 309 prisoners who were housed at the Lonoke jail for lack of space elsewhere, but Govar, who paid Campbell for the work, insists he didn’t know they were inmates.

But if you’re going to ask the police chief to round up workers, how could you not have an inkling they might be inmates?
What’s more, although Govar was called to testify by the prosecution, he in effect became a character witness when he testified that Campbell had a wonderful family. The jury wasn’t impressed.

It makes you wonder: Maybe the Bush administration had good reason to fire former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins, whose office didn’t do much to fight public corruption. As for the seven other U.S. attorneys who were dismissed, we’ll let Congress decide what happened.

Sure, there was a lot of politics involved in the firings, but in Cummins’ case you wonder what he was doing: He fought one small corruption case in Pine Bluff, and maybe we’ve missed a couple of others, but they still don’t add up to much.
So it was up to McCastlain to bring the Campbells to justice. They’ll appeal their long sentences, but whatever happens, McCastlain proved she could win against the best-paid lawyers.

It took a lot of effort by a small Lonoke County prosecutor’s office to nail the couple. They were all smiles when they were led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, but they probably stopped smiling when they spent the night in jail. They could get out on $200,000 and $100,000 respectively, and McCastlain isn’t happy about that. More than ever, she probably wishes the U.S. attorney’s office had been more helpful.

It looks like because of the political fallout over the U.S. attorney firings, Tim Griffin, Bud Cummins’ successor, won’t stay on as U.S. attorney in Little Rock. The White House should do the right thing and make Lona McCastlain U.S. attorney for the remainder of Bush’s term.