Evidence suppression topic of hearing in Fort Gordon bid-rigging, bribery case
By SANDY HODSON | The Augusta Chronicle (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 25, 2018
A hearing Wednesday in the Fort Gordon bid-rigging and bribery case focused on how much and how far can law enforcement go in capturing electronic data that is now part of daily life.
Specifically at issue Wednesday was a search warrant granted on Jan. 13, 2016, to seek the contents of the personal email account of Col. Anthony Roper and his wife, Audra Roper. Federal agents were looking for any evidence related to possible confidential governmental procurement matters, and any communication between the Ropers and Calvin Lawyer or anyone else about bid rigging or bribery. Lawyer is the owner of a company which Roper is accused of giving more than $20 million of sole-source contracts in exchange for nearly $200,000 in bribes between 2008 and 2014.
The Ropers have pleaded not guilty to charges that include conspiracy. Two others, Lawyer and Dwayne O. Fulton, pleaded guilty in November.
Special Agent Preston Johnson of the Army Criminal Investigation Division’s major fraud unit testified Wednesday he applied for the search warrant for the Ropers’ personal email account after seeing from Roper’s work computer that he had copied or forwarded emails to his personal account.
According to court documents, Roper was responsible for overseeing the building and modernization of the Army’s information and communication network at Fort Gordon. He is accused of using that position to fraudulently funnel work to Lawyer’s firm, Communications, Research, Engineering and Consultant Group. Fulton reportedly worked for a large defense contractor, Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, and conspired with Lawyer to get his company contracts by using Lawyer’s company as a front man.
Johnson said Wednesday that there were thousands of emails that he examined - although some only took a glance to determine it was not related in any way to the criminal investigation. He estimated it might have taken him two weeks or so to pull out and separate 34 emails that he considered evidence in the case.
Defense attorneys Warren Lietz III and Page Pate contend that by collecting and keeping a copy of all email correspondence, it became an invalid search and seizure and the only cure is the suppression of the evidence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Rafferty countered that the government was required to keep all of the evidence so it could be provided to the defense in case it contained evidence favorable to the defendants. In a written response to the defense motion, federal prosecutors contend the collection and review of the emails is no different than the examination of innocuous documents in a search of papers related to fraudulent schemes.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian K. Epps granted each side the opportunity to submit a brief before he rules on the question of admissibility.
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