With his sentencing in sight, more that 600 pages of documents seek to paint the former Hamilton County sheriff as a model citizen whose criminal behavior didn’t jibe with the Billy Long who pleaded guilty in May to extortion and money laundering.
Among the documents recently filed in court are 32 “character” letters asking a federal judge to grant Mr. Long leniency, despite his lone drug charge for which federal sentencing guidelines dictate he must spend a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison.
Mr. Long pleaded guilty to a total of 19 crimes following a yearlong undercover sting that revealed he had been taking protection money from local convenience store owners, laundering money, allowing a convicted felon to use one of his firearms and making arrangements to smuggle drug money out of Mexico in a ruse set up by the FBI.
“I do know that it was so unbecoming of him,” writes one longtime friend, referring to Mr. Long’s criminal activities. “This is a man who would give the shirt off his back and his last dollar to anyone in need.”
Mr. Long is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 27.
In addition to the letters, the voluminous filling contains everything from military records to college transcripts and his 122-page personnel file from the sheriff’s department.
Mr. Long seemed to make his best grades of mostly B’s in criminal justice classes while making a D in psychology and a C in English composition, according to the transcripts. And more than 10 memos from his superiors and other professional associates over the years describe him as “outstanding” and “the best.”
Also included are at least 25 local media articles that seem to praise the former sheriff’s work. One article published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press just one month before his arrest in February describes Mr. Long’s plan to crack down on 30,000 outstanding criminal warrants. A more recent article from another media outlet quotes new Sheriff Jim Hammond as being “very pleased” with the state of the department in the wake of Mr. Long’s demise.
“I believe you will find that we are right up there with the best in the state,” Mr. Hammond is quoted as saying.
Veteran defense attorney John Cavett, who is not associated with Mr. Long’s case, said Monday the unusually large amount of documents filed on Mr. Long’s behalf could convince U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice to give him less time in prison.
“The risk is, you can over-try your case,” Mr. Cavett said. “It’s a tough balancing act that lawyers have to make.”
The documents are in sharp contrast to what Mr. Long’s defense attorney has filed in almost equal measure over the past months — evidence that the government’s confidential informant, the Rev. C. Eugene Overstreet, had such a “manipulative” hold over Mr. Long that he had no choice but to do what he did.
“In the past we’ve tried to show the bad side of Rev. Overstreet,” defense attorney Jerry Summers said Monday. “Now we’re trying to show the good side of Billy Long. It’s up to the judge to decide.”
Filings unbecoming of Mr. Overstreet, who runs a mortuary service in Chattanooga, have included excerpts from a book he wrote in which he admitted to having a “$3,000 a week” cocaine habit and minutes from city council meetings that demonstrate his “manipulative and erratic” behavior.
Records show the FBI paid Mr. Overstreet, a convicted felon, $18,468 for his help in bringing Mr. Long down.