With a federal trial date in sight, attorneys for City Councilman John “Duke” Franklin Jr., who recently resigned, are closely guarding their client’s defense plans.
“We’re just looking at the evidence,” defense attorney Cornel Williams said Tuesday outside the federal courthouse in Chattanooga. “We’re trying to figure out what’s right.”
Mr. Franklin and five co-defendants pleaded not guilty Tuesday to all charges stemming from a drug-related roundup earlier this month. Mr. Franklin and his co-defendants are due back in court Aug. 5 when U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan of Knoxville will preside over their trial.
How they pleaded
John P. Franklin Jr., Gerald Cunningham, Nanette Shropshire, Guy Stiner, Johnny Levi and Perry Lawrence all pleaded not guilty Tuesday to various charges related to a drug round-up in early May. Three other individuals listed on the indictment have not yet entered pleas.
Those who pleaded not guilty Tuesday are not required to appear in court again until their Aug. 5 trial date.
Story so far
Local and federal authorities arrested 42 people on May 14 after an extensive investigation into local drug trafficking. City Councilman John “Duke” Franklin was among those arrested. He faces charges of money laundering, conspiring to obstruct justice and providing false statements to federal officials. Authorities have said they believe he helped a co-defendant cover up the origin of $69,000 seized by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. Authorities said they also believe the money was supposed to be used to buy drugs. Mr. Franklin pleaded not guilty Tuesday and faces trial Aug. 5 with the other codefendants. He has resigned from City Council. His last day in office is June 3.
Mr. Franklin — charged with money laundering, conspiring to obstruct justice and providing false statements to federal officials — appeared in a navy pinstripe suit with local attorney Marty Levitt as well as Mr. Williams, a Houston-based attorney and “childhood friend” who grew up a few blocks away from the city councilman.
Mr. Williams said he traveled here to offer his “help and support,” but declined to comment further on Mr. Franklin’s options for possibly making a bargain with the government in lieu of a trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Lee cautioned the defendants about the conditions of their freedom until their cases are resolved. When arrested May 14, all had to sign a $20,000 promise-to-appear document and agree to refrain from committing any crimes. They also must submit to random drug tests.
“I warn you: the simplest thing, like taking someone’s prescription,” is cause to be put in jail, Judge Lee said.
One already has been put behind bars for violating the rules of his release.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Winne has called the case “an impact case” in that those arrested allegedly had significant dealings in the local cocaine business.
Although Mr. Franklin is not accused of drug possession with the intent to distribute, he is listed with eight others in a nine-count indictment as having at least helped to further the cause.
Specifically, Mr. Franklin is accused of helping a co-defendant cover up money that was supposed to be used to buy drugs, court records show.
According to the indictment, Mr. Franklin’s involvement began when he allegedly helped co-defendant Michael Kelley falsify a loan document “in order to justify” the presence of $69,500 seized from Mr. Kelley’s vehicle on March 5.
Although the notarized loan document said Mr. Kelley received the money from co-defendant Perry Lawrence for other purposes, authorities believed he intended to use the cash to pay for cocaine. Authorities said Mr. Franklin also lied about the timeline of the document when asked by federal agents, telling them it had been notarized about a month before Hamilton County Sheriff’s deputies found the money.
In fact, the indictment claims, Mr. Franklin helped Mr. Kelley cover his tracks two days after Mr. Kelley was caught with the money.
Mr. Franklin plans to step down from the council effective June 3, according to the letter dated May 21 and addressed to Council Chairwoman Linda Bennett.
Video: Franklin pleads not guiltyCity Councilman John "Duke" Franklin Jr. and four other co-defendants pleaded not guilty today to charges stemming from a large cocaine bust May 14 in which 42 people were arrested. Mr. Franklin is charged with money laundering, conspiring to obstruct justice and providing false statements to federal officials, all in connection with allegedly helping a co-defendant cover up money that was supposed to be used to buy drugs.