Staff Photo by D. Patrick Harding -- Former Hamilton County Sheriff Billy Long is led into the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building and Courthouse this morning before a 9 a.m. sentencing hearing.
The attorney for former Hamilton County sheriff Billy Long hopes to convince a federal judge today that the FBI and its manipulative undercover informant convinced the county’s top law enforcement official to embrace a life of crime.
Mr. Long, who pleaded guilty in May to 27 crimes involving extortion, money laundering, drug and gun charges, is to be sentenced today. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison for the drug crime, which involved a fake cocaine transaction set up by the FBI.
This morning Judge Harry S. "Sandy" Mattice is ruling on various motions by defense attorney Jerry Summers, who is attempting to reduce the sentencing guidelines for Mr. Long. The court took a brief 5 minute recess around 3:1 p.m. and resumed proceedings. Judge Mattice was expected to announce his sentence later today.
Judge Mattice has the authority to go below that minimum, but only if he is convinced by hundreds of pages of documents filed by Mr. Summers over the past several months. Mr. Summers has tried to show that Mr. Long has a weakness when it comes to manipulation and also that he was lured by a relentless “sentencing entrapment” agenda conducted by the government.
In the hearing that continued this afternoon and included testimony by two FBI agents, Mr. Summers said the undercover informant steered Long into criminal activity and that agents made the case bigger by involving larger amounts of cocaine and money, according to the Associated Press.
But the judge told Summers that undercover informants are a necessary tool in law enforcement and that “what you are attacking is the way law enforcement is carried out in this country.”
“I am going to decline your invitation to make new law here today,” the judge said.
With some pre-sentencing court filings remaining sealed, the judge at one point had a defense witness testify behind closed doors in his chambers, according to the Associated Press.
Saying he expects the sentence to be appealed, the judge in the open hearing allowed Mr. Summers to make numerous objections to a pre-sentence report that recommends Long be sent to prison at least 14 years.
During the hearing, Long sat handcuffed and shackled, wearing a red jail jumpsuit.
Court records show the FBI began investigating Long using the Rev. Eugene Overstreet, a Chattanooga mortuary owner who is a convicted felon, as an undercover informant.
An FBI agent’s affidavit says Long told agents he was involved in drug trafficking, and that hours before his arrest he had loaded 10 kilograms — or 22 pounds — of cocaine into the trunk of a car.
Court records allege Long also accepted $17,400 from Eastern Indian convenience store owners “to protect their video poker business and other illegal activity” such as products used to make methamphetamine, and threatened at least one for failing to “fulfill his campaign donation promise” to Long.
The affidavit also said Long accepted $6,550 in cash as a payoff to supposedly help launder drug proceeds.
A psychological evaluation of Long showed he asked an evaluator in a jalhouse interview why he committed the crimes.
Bertin Glennon, a senior psychological examiner, reported in an earlier unsealed court document that the former sheriff does not have mental health or drug problems but kept his crimes secret and that secrecy led to a “situation of cognitive dissonance,” a condition that involves conflicting attitudes.
Summers previously said the report shows Long “has a personality defect, that he can be manipulated.”
The evaluation report shows Long, who is white, told the psychologist that during his campaign for sheriff he was introduced to Overstreet, who is black, as a man who could “help him with the African American vote.” It says Overstreet later told him he could also help with the votes of “entrepreneurs from India.”
The report shows Long said he knew he was getting “scammed” but he needed the support of black preachers to get elected.