ATLANTA (CN) – The owner of a trucking company who was convicted of paying bribes to rake in more than $20 million from military contracts fought for relief Wednesday at the 11th Circuit.
Arguing this morning before a three-judge panel in Atlanta, attorney Edward Garland said that the evidence showed only that his client, Christopher Whitman, gave gratuities to officials.
“The defense was presented for five weeks … evidence was used on the record for, what we’ll call, ‘buttering up,’” said Garland, a partner with Garland, Samuel and Loeb.
Justice Department attorney Alex Robbins told the panel meanwhile that the proper time to raise such arguments was at trial.
“Timing is everything,” Robbins said. “You need to submit your argument to the jury. … None of that happened here.”
Robbins added: “There is nothing in the record at all that suggested these payments were gratuities.”
Garland’s argument also drew skepticism from at least one judge on the panel.
“But you never argued this, did you?” said U.S. District Judge John Antoon II, sitting by designation from the Middle District of Florida.
Despite this confrontation, Garland commented in an interview after the roughly hour-long hearing that arguments were “enjoyable.”
“All of the judges were nice to us, at least,” Garland added.
Whitman was given a 22-years prison sentence in 2015 after a jury found him guilty of paying more than $800,000 between 2008 and 2012 to obtain commercial trucking contracts for his trucking company United Logistics.
The three officials Whitman paid off all worked for the Defense Logistics Agency of the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia.
Prosecutors presented evidence at Whitman’s trial that his bribes landed him MCLB contracts with a variety of unnecessary and costly provisions, such as expedited service, expensive trailers and exclusive use, meaning that the freight was shipped separately from other equipment.
In addition to his lengthy prison sentence, Whitman was ordered to forfeit more than $18 million.
The 11th Circuit also heard a 15-minute appeal Wednesday from counsel for one of Whitman’s co-defendants, former MCLB official Shawn McCarty.
Keith Pflepsen, an attorney with the Albany firm Woodall and Pflepsen, said McCarty should have been given a more individualized assessment because of the limited scope he played in the scheme.
Distinguishing his client from the other bribe-takers, Pflepsen said McCarty was a transportation assistant working for the government.
“He’s not a very sophisticated man,” said Pflepsen.
McCarty was sentenced to 10 years and ordered to forfeit more than $15 million.
Pflepsen also tried to counter another narrative from the trial.
“Right from the beginning … it was said they all worked in the same office,” Pflepsen said. “Not true. They had different offices. … There is no evidence McCarty acquiesced with any criminal activity.”
The argument drew skepticism, however, from from U.S. Circuit William Pryor.
“Everyone was in this together,” Pryor said.
He added: “There’s evidence they jointly undertook activity. It’s one reasonable inference.”
Rounding out the panel, U.S. Circuit Judge Julie Carnes noted that she felt for the trial judge as a former district judge herself.
“This is a complicated co-defendant case,” Carnes said. “What’s he [the judge] going to do? Terminate the trial? It’s kind of a mess.”
Whitman and McCarty’s co-defendant, Bradford Newell, did not participate in the appeal. Newell was ordered to forfeit just $513,600 and given a five-year sentence.
While this trio went to trial, five other accused co-conspirators pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme.
The MCLB-Albany provides support to ground company and combat support equipment for U.S. military troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other locations.