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“The judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behaviour...”

Indictment and Conviction of the Hon. Robert F. Collins

Judge, Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
Gary Young was a twice-convicted drug dealer facing extended prison time.  He sought the assistance of friends who might help him get a lighter sentence by bribing the judge who would be adjudicating his case.  Young also entered into a relationship with federal prosecutors with whom he signed a plea agreement.  Cooperating with prosecutors, he passed marked money to Judge Robert Collins through an unsuspecting mutual acquaintance, John Ross, a longtime friend of the judge.  A grand jury eventually indicted Collins and Ross of bribery, conspiracy and obstruction of justice, and they were subsequently convicted and sentenced to serve time in prison.  Because federal judges have lifetime appointments, Collins would continue to receive his salary while in prison, motivating Congress to initiate impeachment hearings to remove him from the bench.

Collins Guilty in Bribery Case; Jurors Also Convict Levee Board's Ross
June 30, 1991

U.S. District Judge Robert Collins, the first black federal judge in the South, Saturday became the first judge in the 200-year history of the federal judiciary to be convicted of taking a bribe.

Collins, 60, and longtime friend John Ross, 59, a member of the Orleans Levee Board and Aviation Board, were convicted of bribery, conspiracy and obstruction of justice by a federal jury that deliberated for about 9-1/2 hours.

Collins and Ross showed no emotion when the unanimous verdicts were read before specially appointed trial Judge Joseph Young of Baltimore.

After the jury was dismissed, Collins spoke briefly with his wife, Aloha, in the first row of audience seats in the courtroom. With a faint smile he leaned heavily against a wall and stared across the room.

He declined comment as he left the third-floor courtroom to head for his chambers one floor above.

A source said that once inside, surrounded by family members and friends, Collins had tears in his eyes and said repeatedly, "I just can't believe it."

Julian Murray, one of Collins' attorneys, described the judge as "shocked and devastated" and having a feeling of "incredulity." "We can't understand" the jury's decision to convict both men on all charges, Murray said.

Judge Young set Sept. 6 for sentencing of Collins and Ross, who face eight to nine years in prison without parole under federal sentencing guidelines. Young cannot remove Collins from his $125,000 per-year lifetime appointment.

No rush for impeachment

An effort to impeach Collins, who was appointed by President Carter in 1978, probably will not be initiated until appeals are exhausted.

Sources in the legal community, including present and former judges and a lawyer who has known Collins for years, said earlier this week there would be an attempt to impeach Collins even if he was acquitted.

Impeachment was likely, one state judge said, because of concern about the "appearance of impropriety" in the case.

"I think the Senate will adopt the position that there has been at least the extreme appearance of impropriety," another judge said.

Defense attorneys said the convictions will be appealed. Collins won't resign his post, but will stop hearing cases pending disposition of the appeal, his attorney said.

Collins and Ross have 60 days to file notice of appeal with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, next door to the district courthouse at 600 Camp St. Criminal appeals typically take at least one year to be heard in court and several months before a ruling is announced.

It was unclear if Collins will move out of his chambers at the federal courthouse. "We haven't crossed that bridge. ... It's something we'll take up," said Kern Reese, another of Collins' attorneys.

Collins, one of the first blacks admitted to the Louisiana State University Law School and the first magistrate appointed in Orleans Criminal District Court, did not take the stand during the trial, which began June 17. Upon closing their case Thursday, defense attorneys said they didn't think it was necessary that the judge testify.

Asked Saturday if he regretted not having Collins testify, Murray said, " In this profession you spend half your life second-guessing yourself. Needless to say we'll wonder."

Immediately after the trial, jurors were driven to the hotel where they were sequestered Thursday and Friday night. Several jurors who later were contacted by telephone refused to comment.

Ross to quit boards

Ross, who has served more than 10 years on several politically appointed boards and works as a consultant for the Regional Planning Commission, seemed stunned as he left the courtroom.

On the courthouse steps, Ross said he felt "very devastated by the results. ... We don't know how they came out with that result."

He said he will resign from the Levee Board and Aviation Board "for the integrity of the boards."

Ross lashed out at prosecutors for building a bribery case against him and Collins by using twice-convicted narcotics felon Gary Young, operator of Bart's Seafood Restaurant at West End.

Young, working as a government informant, gave $100,000 in marked FBI money to Ross in 1989 and 1990 after Ross said he could bribe Collins to give Young a lenient sentence on a marijuana smuggling charge he faced last year, the prosecution said.

Collins sentenced Young to 3-1/2 years in prison. That sentence was rescinded by a federal appeals court after Collins' chambers were searched. Young will be resentenced July 30 before a federal judge in Biloxi, Miss.

"Maybe it pays to be a dope dealer," Ross said, accusing Young of lying on the witness stand at the trial.

Justice Department prosecutor Jim Cole, a government attorney in the case, said he was satisfied by the verdicts, but said the experience was bittersweet because Collins compromised the integrity of the judicial system.

Cole said there was adequate evidence to convict both men. "Juries understand evidence," he said. "They understand the truth."

Audio tapes were crucial

Much of the government's case was presented in more than five hours of secretly recorded audio tapes of conversations between Ross and Young and Ross and Collins.

More than $16,000 of the $100,000 Ross received from Young was found in Collins' chambers when the FBI served a search warrant there last Aug. 10, two days after Collins sentenced Young.

Cole said the money found in Collins' chambers was strong evidence. Also damaging, Cole said, was FBI testimony that Collins and Ross initially denied that Ross had given money to Collins.

The defense acknowledged during the trial that money changed hands, saying Ross gave Collins the money in a legitimate land deal in which Ross was buying a two-story triplex that Collins owned at 1531 Feliciana St. Collins' attorneys said there was no written documentation of the transaction.

About $70,000 of the marked money was found at Ross' office at the Regional Planning Commission and in a safety deposit box at a security company. About $12,000 of the money was never accounted for.

Before the trial, defense attorneys said Collins and Ross were targeted for prosecution because they are black, a charge the government vehemently denied. That issue was not raised during the trial.

Ross said he never bribed Collins, but insinuated to Young that he could bribe the judge in order to collect what he said was $100,000 owed him by Jefferson Parish land developer John Yemelos.

Ross said Yemelos, a former owner of Bart's and Young's business associate, pledged the money to Ross to start a minority business and had told Young to provide the money from Bart's.

The defense also said Collins did not know the money found in his chambers was supplied by Young.

Prosecutors said any talk of a real estate deal between Ross and Collins on the tapes was a code referring to the bribe plot.

Cole also noted that FBI agents said Ross and Collins initially denied they were involved in a real estate deal.

Cole said if there had been a legitimate real estate deal, they would have told FBI agents about it when first questioned Aug. 10.

Highlights of Collins' career

1951- Graduated first in his class at Dillard University and later was one of the first blacks to graduate from Louisiana State University Law School.

1954-56 - Served in the Army.

1960s - Became a leading civil rights attorney for the Congress of Racial Equality. After passage of civil rights legislation, he formed one of the few black law partnerships in New Orleans.

1967-69 - Named assistant city attorney, serving as an adviser to the New Orleans Police Department.

1969-71 - Served as judge ad hoc of the New Orleans Traffic Court. Helped form the 7th Ward political group COUP.

1972 - Appointed by Gov. Edwin Edwards as a Criminal Court magistrate in New Orleans.

1977 - Nominated by President Carter to serve as a U.S. disrict judge. Senate confirmation hearings were postponed after reports that an FBI background report on Collins contained allegations he and other politicians received $40,000 to buy votes during the 1971 gubernatorial campaign.

1978 - The Senate Judiciary Committee initially rejected his confirmation, but a second committee hearing failed to substantiate charges of misconduct against Collins, clearing the way for Senate approval in 1978.

Aug. 10, 1990 - FBI agents search Collins' U.S. District Court chambers and find more than $16,000 in marked money. Collins disqualifies himself from handling any cases involving the government or its employees.

Feb. 8, 1991 - Indicted by federal grand jury on bribery charges.

June 29, 1991 - Convicted of bribery, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

Copyright 1991, The Times-Picayune
Publishing Corporation
From: The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, June 30, 1991, National, p. 1.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.

N.O. Judge Indicted in Bribe Case
February 9, 1991

U.S. District Judge Robert F. Collins of New Orleans was indicted by a grand jury Friday on charges that he accepted at least $16,500 in bribes to influence his sentencing of a marijuana smuggler last year.

Orleans Levee Board member John Ross, an employee of the Regional Planning Commission who also is on the New Orleans Aviation Board, was indicted with Collins.

Collins' attorneys said he is innocent and said the government targeted him — the first black federal judge in the South — "for what appears to be strictly racial motives," a charge that was denied by a Justice Department spokesman.

Collins and Ross, who also said he is an innocent man being persecuted because he is black, were charged with bribery, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. Each faces up to 25 years in prison and a $750,000 fine if convicted.

Federal prosecutors said Ross was a go-between in a scheme to split with Collins $100,000 in payoffs from Gary Young, 37, a restaurateur who was facing federal drug charges in 1989.

Young, who was cooperating with authorities, was not charged in the bribery case.

Collins, 58, declined to answer questions about the case.

Constitutional canons do not require Collins to step down from the bench, and he "will maintain his duties at this point," said Kern Reese, one of Collins' three attorneys.

However, Collins will continue to recuse himself from criminal cases brought by the U.S. attorney's office, or civil cases in which the government is a litigant. He announced that policy in August, shortly after prosecutors said he was under investigation.

Ross said he has not discussed with authorities whether he must give up his Aviation Board or Levee Board seats.

Collins was released on his own recognizance after appearing before U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola, who was called in from Baton Rouge to preside over Collins' appearance.

Ross was released on a $20,000 unsecured bond. Arraignment for the two was set for Feb. 22. Polozola said the Supreme Court has appointed U.S. District Judge Joseph Young of Baltimore to hear the case. No trial date was set.

The indictment of Collins and Ross details meetings and money transfers among the two and Young, the drug defendant who operated Bart's Seafood Restaurant on the lakefront.

in 1989 Young, who had been imprisoned in the early 1980s on a cocaine conviction, was ensnared in a federal investigation into the smuggling of more than 2,500 pounds of marijuana from Belize to Louisiana. He decided to cooperate with authorities, who thought he would lead them to drug and money-laundering figures in Jefferson Parish, sources said.

Instead, Collins and Ross were implicated in the bribery offer, authorities said.

According to the indictment, Ross — described as a friend of both Collins and Young — approached Young in September 1989 and told him he could arrange the judge's help if the case was assigned to Collins.

Over the next 10 months Young paid Ross $100,000 in five payments, and at least $16,500 of it went to Collins, the indictment said.

During the same period, Young was indicted and, with Collins' consent, moved to have his case transferred to Collins' court.

Young pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate statutes regarding interstate travel in aid of racketeering. On Aug. 8, Collins sentenced him to 42 months in prison, although a confidential pre-sentence report by federal probation authorities recommended an eight-year sentence for Young.

The indictment said that Aug. 10, two days after the sentencing, Ross relayed instructions from Collins to Young on how the sentence might be reduced.

The same day Young gave Ross a final payment of $31,500, and Ross visited Collins in his chambers, the indictment said.

About mid-afternoon, FBI agents confronted Collins and searched his chambers.

Federal agents recovered $16,500 from Collins' wallet and a locked cabinet behind his desk, the indictment said.

Serial numbers matched money the FBI had given Young to pass on, sources have said.

Young's 3-1/2 year sentence, along with his guilty plea before Collins, was thrown out by an appeals judge last August, at the request of prosecutors and Young's attorney, Frank DeSalvo.

Young pleaded guilty a second time in November before U.S. District Judge Walter Gex III of Biloxi, Miss., where his case was transferred. He has not been sentenced on that plea.

"This case is nothing more than a blatant attempt by a twice-convicted dope dealer aided and abetted by government agents to set up a black federal judge," Reese said after Friday's indictment.

"This case will reveal the unbelievable lengths the administration will go to in discrediting prominent black officials," Reese said.

Ross made a similar statement: "Once again, this is going to demonstrate the lengths that the federal government will go to in using drug addicts and what have you to indict top black officials," he said.

Doug Tillett, a Justice Department spokesman, said it is "categorically not true" Collins and Ross were targeted because of their race.

"I hate to use the law enforcement cliche but we really do follow the evidence where it leads," Tillett said.

He said the Justice Department's civil rights division has filed voting rights cases that helped black public officials get elected. "Why would we work to get them elected on one hand if we're going to target them for prosecution on the other hand?" Tillett said.

Fewer than 10 federal judges have been charged with criminal activity in the 200 years since the federal judiciary was established. Collins is the fourth federal judge charged since 1983, Harry Claiborne of Nevada was convicted on tax evasion charges in 1984, and Walter Nixon of Mississippi was convicted of perjury to a grand jury in 1986.

Anatomy of the Federal Bribery Case

Prosecutors' charges against U.S. District Judge Robert Collins and John H. Ross:

Sept. 29, 1989 - Drug defendant Gary Young, cooperating with federal prosecutors, records a conversation with Ross about paying Collins to give him a light prison sentence. A few days later, Young pays Ross $5,000.

Jan. 29, 1990 - Collins and Ross discuss Young's case.

April 5, 1990 - Young indicted on drug charges. Possible sentence: 15 years.

May 16, 1990 - Ross accepts $2,500 from Young.

May 17, 1990 - Collins agrees to Young's request to transfer the case to his court. Government lawyers do not object.

May 23, 1990 - Young gives $20,000 to Ross, who says half will go to Collins. Ross meets Collins in Pete's Pub at the Inter-Continental Hotel and gives him a package containing money.

May 30, 1990 - Young gives Ross another $30,000. Collins sets Young's sentencing for Aug. 8.

Aug. 7, 1990 - Young gives $11,000 to Ross in a brown, expandable folder. Later, Ross delivers a portion to Collins. Ross subsequently tells Young authorities have recommended an eight-year prison sentence, but that Collins will not follow it.

Aug. 8, 1990 - Collins gives Young a 42-month prison term.

Aug. 10, 1990 - Young gives Ross $31,500. Ross and Collins meet. Ross calls Young and relays instructions from the judge on how Young might have his sentence cut. The FBI emerges, and finds $16,500 in marked money in Collins' wallet and chambers.

Copyright 1991, The Times-Picayune
Publishing Corporation
From: The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, February 9, 1991, National, p. 1.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.


















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