A Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance video of former Hamilton County Sheriff Billy Long was included by prosecutors as evidence in a motion filed Friday in federal court. Mr. Long could face 10 years in prison after pleading guilty May 5 to 27 crimes, including extortion. His attorney maintains the sentence should be reduced, but prosecutors claim Mr. Long has a “bloodthirsty disposition” and should not receive leniency.
The release of video evidence showing Billy Long trafficking money and drugs isn’t enough to get the former Hamilton County sheriff to sit back and accept a lengthy prison term, according to his defense attorney.
“This looks like it’s going to be a 15-rounder,” Jerry Summers said late Friday, shortly after prosecutors unveiled 59 minutes of surveillance footage of Mr. Long as part of a motion filed in U.S. District Court.
The motion is the latest in a back-and-forth exchange between Mr. Summers and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Humble, who are arguing over whether Mr. Long is eligible for a “safety valve” in federal sentencing law. The provision would allow U.S. District Court Judge Harry S. “Sandy” Mattice to circumvent a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence when deciding Mr. Long’s punishment on Oct. 27.
Mr. Long was arrested in February on 28 charges including extortion, money laundering, drug trafficking and giving a gun to a convicted felon. He resigned shortly afterward, and then he pleaded guilty to 27 counts in May after prosecutors agreed to drop the 28th charge: possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug crime.
“There’s some kind of misconception that when you plead guilty, you’re not entitled to raise defenses of outrageous government conduct and sentencing manipulation,” Mr. Summers said Friday, announcing his intent to file more motions to rebut prosecutors and call the character of their cooperating witness into question.
Mr. Humble argued against any leniency for Mr. Long earlier this week by releasing transcripts of taped evidence he said showcased Mr. Long’s “blood-thirsty disposition” during interactions with confidential informant C. Eugene Overstreet.
Mr. Summers has downplayed those comments as “locker room talk” and has asked for a psychological evaluation of Mr. Overstreet. He argues that the local funeral home operator, who is a former drug addict and convicted felon, has a manipulative personality that was used to coerce Mr. Long into behaving in ways he otherwise would not have.
But Mr. Overstreet does not need to be evaluated and the investigation did not amount to entrapment, Mr. Humble argued in his latest motion, as it was Mr. Long “who picked his friend, the (confidential witness), to be his partner in crime.”
The investigation began only after an FBI agent who happened to be visiting Mr. Overstreet in March 2007 overheard Mr. Long call and talk about his intention to extort money from store owners, the motion stated.
Mr. Overstreet then lied upon direction from the government, prosecutors wrote, because once “it was determined that the defendant was predisposed to commit crimes, the investigation sought to determine whether there were any limits as to how far the defendant would go.”
Mr. Long actively participated, prosecutors said, and maintained a close, consensual relationship with Mr. Overstreet: “During meetings with the defendant, the (confidential witness) and the defendant would hug and say things like, ‘I love you.’”
The FBI filmed Mr. Long receiving illegal proceeds, providing Mr. Overstreet with a badge and gun and participating in a fictitious drug trafficking scheme during which he believed powder cocaine was being concealed in a casket for an infant.
In support of their motion, prosecutors edited nearly a year’s worth of surveillance footage into just under an hour of highlights from their investigation.
“It is apparent from the tapes themselves, the best evidence, that the defendant was not deceived about the illegal nature of (his) activity,” Mr. Humble argued.
Harassing Mr. Overstreet and invading his privacy by asking for a psychological evaluation is unnecessary, he said, especially since he has not been called to provide any additional witness testimony in the case.
Mr. Overstreet “should not be harassed for having helped catch a corrupt public figure who publicly spoke of putting deputies in schools and at the same time believed he was helping put cocaine in Hixson,” Mr. Humble wrote. “Cocaine that, as far as he knew, would end up in the same schools and used by the same children he was supposed to be protecting.”