Raleigh defense lawyer found guilty

October 10, 2009 8:28:31 AM PDT
Prominent Raleigh defense lawyer Johnny Gaskins was convicted Friday of seven federal charges that he structured banking transactions in order to hide money from the IRS. But, the jury decided, he will get to keep the more than $355,000 involved, affirming the defense argument that he earned the money fairly, and paid the appropriate income taxes.

Charges were filed against Gaskins after federal investigators say he broke down all of his banking transactions into chunks less than $10,000, and made sure to do business with different bank tellers to avoid raising suspicion. Banks are required to report to the IRS all transactions involving amounts $10,000 or greater.

By all indications, the jury's decision was not an easy one. Early in deliberations, jurors asked Judge W. Earl Britt if they could read the transcript of testimony by both Gaskins and another witness. That request was denied, with Judge Britt telling jurors they needed to rely solely on their own recollection of the testimony presented in the case. Jurors then requested lunch, an indication the deliberations could take some time.

The wait was a long and stressful one for family and friends gathered outside the courtroom. By mid-afternoon, many of them took to singing and chair exercises to relieve stress and pass the time. Gaskins’ wife Rosemary Godwin, also an attorney, even joined the group as they were practicing yoga poses. Laughter could often be heard at renditions of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” and the theme to Kit-Kat bar commercials.

But just before 4:30, word came suddenly from U.S. Marshals that a verdict had been reached, and the mood turned serious. Jurors entered the courtroom looking straight ahead, not once glancing at the defendant.

And then came the verdicts from Judge Britt.

“Count one…guilty. Count two…guilty.” All the way to seven. Gaskins sat stoic, whispering to his attorney. Family, friends, and jurors showed no emotion. Gaskins’ attorney, R. Daniel Boyce, asked that the jury be polled to confirm the verdict, and all jurors acknowledged their decision.

Following the verdict, Judge Britt sent jurors back into chambers to decide what to do with the $355,567 involved in the illegal transactions. Each side presented an argument of less than one minute. The defense said the money was earned fairly and all taxes were paid, thus the United States government had no right to it. Prosecutors pointed out the money was nonetheless tied to illegal conduct, and must be forfeited.

The jury took less than ten minutes to rule that Gaskins should keep the money.

After the jury was released, family and friends filed out of the court room quietly and quickly, some with expressions of disbelief.

Today’s verdict will not only likely spell the end to a long and storied criminal defense career for Gaskins. Each of the charges on which he was convicted is a felony that could carry a sentence of probation to five years in prison. If given the maximum sentence, the 60-year old Gaskins could spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Sentencing is scheduled for February 1, 2010, barring an appeal.

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