In The Ind's July 20 cover story, CONVICTed, we introduced Mike Wyatt, a car customizer and small business owner who's been indicted on major federal drug conspiracy charges despite never possessing drugs or trafficking them across state lines.
Wyatt is facing 10-plus years in prison and up to $4 million in fines because the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District in Louisiana has accused him of installing a few secret compartments in vehicles that the government claims he knew would be used to transport mass amounts of contraband.
What Wyatt's story reveals is that secret compartments are legal to install and possess in vehicles, but the false testimony of an admitted drug kingpin, the questionable conduct of a federal prosecutor and haphazard federal drug laws have put Wyatt at-risk of losing his business and, more importantly, his freedom.
Eric Alexander, the drug ring's leader whose damning testimony against Wyatt has been proven false, has been housed in parish jails since at least January 2007, though he pleaded guilty to a lengthy list of federal drug conspiracy and money laundering charges in December 2008.
As part of his plea agreement, the U.S. Attorney's Office agreed to delay Alexander's sentencing until he offers "substantial assistance" in testifying against Wyatt and two other co-defendants who have refused to accept a plea agreement from the government. But coincidentally, less than two weeks after The Ind's cover story hit the stands, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett Grayson has asked that Alexander's sentencing take place as soon as possible, before Wyatt's trial in February 2012.
Grayson says in his motion that housing Alexander in a St. Martin Parish jail is straining the budget of the U.S. Marshal's Service, which pays parish jails a fairly high per diem to keep federal detainees behind local bars.
At a $41-per-day fee to house Alexander for more than four years instead of sending him to the budget of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, it's only about $8,500 more than the almost $70,000 the federal government has already paid to keep Alexander close to home — all to ensure the conviction of a family man with no criminal record who was never charged with drug possession.
But whether or not the motive for Alexander's early sentencing request really is about the roughly $8,500, even if Alexander is sent away before Wyatt's trial without first satisfying the government, he can still testify against Wyatt after he's been sentenced and knock off a substantial amount of prison time for doing so.
Wyatt's saga and Alexander's lies under oath are part of what one former federal prosecutor calls an "inherent problem" with a federal criminal justice system that relies on convicts, most of whom are criminals by their own admission.
Read more about it here.