COLUMBIA - A federal judge Friday dismissed charges against five former lawmakers who were caught in the Lost Trust corruption sting in 1990.
U.S. District Judge Falcon Hawkins threw out indictments against B.J. Gordon, J.M. "Bud" Long, Luther Taylor, Larry Blanding and Paul Derrick, five of 28 legislators, lobbyists and other officials who were caught up in a votes-for-cash FBI sting.
"The court is convinced that the totality of the government's actions in these matters rises to the level of egregious prosecutorial misconduct," Judge Hawkins said.
Lawyer Lionel Lofton, who represented Mr. Gordon, said his client was ecstatic about the 86-page decision.
"I've talked to Gordon, and he's extremely happy," Mr. Lofton said. "It took a lot of guts for a federal judge to throw out these indictments like this."
Former U.S. Attorney Bart Daniel, who prosecuted the lawmakers, said he was confident that the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. Va., would reinstate the charges and order new trials. "You've still got videotape of corrupt public officials, or public officials stuffing money in their pockets in exchange for votes," Mr. Daniel said.
The Lost Trust sting was the biggest government scandal in state history.
While 10 lawmakers pleaded guilty to selling their votes for cash to lobbyist Ron Cobb - who was working undercover for the FBI in exchange for lenient treatment on cocaine-trafficking charges - Mr. Gordon and the others went to trial and were convicted.
But Judge Hawkins said in court in October that prosecutors had repeatedly broken federal rules of ethical procedure.
Lawyers had argued that the government ignored FBI regulations, improperly withheld documents that would have helped the defense and allowed its star witness to lie on the stand.
Prosecutors acknowledged that "mistakes were made" but said they were unintentional and did not affect the outcome of the trials.
Judge Hawkins said he tried to find some other answer besides throwing out the indictments, but the only remedy equal to the government's misconduct would be dismissal with prejudice.
"I am of the opinion that the nature and breadth of (the government's) misconduct is indicative of the drastic steps the prosecution took to win these cases, and that the resultant injustice to these defendants cannot be fully remedied by new trials," Judge Hawkins said.
New trials were also ordered for Mr. Blanding and Mr. Derrick. Mr. Gordon and Mr. Long had been convicted, but were never sentenced.