Judge drops two charges against Philpot; sentencing Thursday
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org February 20, 2013 3:00PM
Updated: March 22, 2013 10:31AM
A federal judge on Tuesday tossed two of the criminal counts against former Lake County Coroner Thomas Philpot Jr., saying that his signature wasn’t enough evidence to show he knew he was breaking the law.
U.S. District Judge James Moody upheld Philpot’s conviction on three other charges, however, and denied his motions for a new trial, to toss his grand jury indictment and to continue his sentencing hearing, which means it will still take place Thursday morning.
A federal jury convicted Philpot in August on three counts of mail fraud and two counts of theft from a federally funded program. Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson argued that Philpot paid himself, from 2004 to 2009 while he served as clerk, $24,703 from a state program used to give bonus payments to county employees who help collect child support.
State law bars elected officials from increasing pay this way without the approval of their fiscal body, which in this case is the Lake County Council. Benson argued that the council never gave Philpot its permission.
However, Moody said in his ruling that for Philpot to be guilty, he had to know he was breaking the law. Prior to late 2008, which is the period the two dropped charges focused on, the only evidence that Philpot knew about that state law was his signature on the county’s cooperative agreement with the state overseeing the child support funds.
“There was no direct evidence at trial that Philpot ever read any of these cooperative agreements or that any person ever observed him reading one,” Moody wrote in his ruling.
The judge noted that Philpot would have also had to read the specific portion of the state law to know he was breaking it. The jury would have to make “inference upon inference upon inference” to conclude that Philpot knew he was the breaking the law.
Philpot’s argument that he continued in innocence fell apart when he gave his attorney, David Saks, a copy of the Indiana law in late 2008. That alone is evidence that he knew about the law, Moody wrote.
He dismissed other arguments Philpot’s attorneys made against the three remaining charges, which focus on the period after 2008, based on this fact.
“Instead of confronting this simple truth head on, Philpot side-steps and obfuscates...” Moody wrote in his opinion.
Philpot’s attorney Kerry Connor filed a motion Wednesday asking that his sentencing hearing set for Thursday morning be delayed, arguing that Moody’s ruling changed their case.
Moody denied the request, however. Philpot has argued that he should receive a sentence with no prison time, and federal attorneys say he should be sentenced to more than the recommended sentencing range of one to three years.