Vincent’s attorney seeks less punishment
By LANCE MARTIN
GREENVILLE – The attorney for the first Operation Rockfish defendant to plead guilty in the police corruption case is seeking a variance in his client’s punishment.
On Wednesday, Thomas Manning, a Raleigh attorney representing Wardie Vincent Jr., also asked for the sentencing, currently scheduled for March 7, to be continued to a later date.
One day later, United States Senior Judge Malcolm Howard signed the order that delayed the sentencing until the court’s June 13 term.
Manning is seeking a sentencing guideline range of 10 to 16 months, documents filed this week in the federal court record show.
The government seeks a sentencing range of 108 to 135 months.
“It is respectfully submitted that the circumstances of his case since his entry of an initial decision to cooperate with the government’s investigations and his initial and subsequent pleas of guilty warrant consideration for entry of a variance sentence below the stated guidelines sentence … ” Manning wrote in a document filed Wednesday.
Throughout the case, which involved 13 former law enforcement and/or correctional officers – the majority from Northampton County – as the results of detention hearings were appealed to a higher court and plea bargains were modified, Vincent remained willing to cooperate with the government “and provide information concerning his participation and knowledge of the conspiracy, once counsel had reviewed and discussed the discovery and investigation information.”
Manning argued, “At various times earlier in the case, the court had amended the release conditions of many of the defendants in this case. Undersigned counsel had made inquiry of the defendant whether he wished counsel to make an application in this regard, and the defendant did not wish it, as he indicated that he had ‘screwed up,’ and that he knew he was going to have to serve time, and he wanted to go ahead and start and keep serving whatever sentence was to be imposed.”
Vincent was not employed as a deputy sheriff at the time he participated in the conspiracy for which he admitted his guilt, Manning said. “He had resigned from the sheriff’s office in August of 2013, a significant time before he was approached about joining in the activities.
“He reports having been suffering from depression, and had sought assistance in April of 2013 prior to his resignation. He sought sporadic assistance for this, but was not consistent. Counsel recommends evaluation once he is incarcerated, and treatment for whatever symptoms or diagnosis are determined.”
At the time of his arrest in Operation Rockfish, Vincent was driving a delivery truck for a furniture company in Southside Virginia, and was having difficulty in providing for his family and children, the motion says.
His criminal record prior to his arrest on the current charges were a 1998 infraction for speeding, a 2002 speeding ticket, and a 2008 window tinting violation.
“Lastly, defendant has admitted his role and participation in the events leading to his arrest,” his attorney said. “Looking back on the events, he had willingly entered into and participated. From the discovery and his now knowledge of what actually occurred, he is thankful that there was actually no realistic chance of his doing harm, as every aspect of the controlled trips delivering the fake drugs, fake money or other instruments was, thankfully, all part of a meticulously executed sting operation.
“This doesn’t diminish his culpability for succumbing to temptation for financial reasons, and for putting himself, his reputation and potentially his safety at risk, and he has acknowledged that by his sorrow at being separated from his family, and by his voluntarily remaining in custody continuously since his arrest to be doing his penance for his misdeeds,” Manning added.
Manning also asks the court order the most stringent drug treatment available for what he calls his client’s “stated frequent ‘marihuana’ use,” that he be evaluated for depression and receive whatever counseling and treatment recommended by the evaluators.
United States Attorney John Stuart Brice said in his response the government is asking for sentencing between 108 to 135 months for Vincent. “A sentence within the guidelines range is appropriate after considering the serious nature and circumstances of the offense, namely the defendant’s long-term participation in what he believed was a large-scale drug trafficking organization.”
Vincent, formerly a Northampton County Sheriff’s Office deputy and the son of now retired Northampton Sheriff Wardie Vincent Sr., was one of the first defendants recruited by Lann Tjuan Clanton, the original target of the investigation.
“Vincent ultimately participated in eight operations, and drove the vehicle containing the purported drugs during one of them,” Brice wrote. “During the course of the investigation, Vincent assumed a leadership role: He recruited two other individuals — both NCSO deputy sheriffs — to join the enterprise, and he took the initiative to plan and execute a meeting on January 28, 2014, with other members of the conspiracy in which Vincent used his training and experience as a law enforcement official to teach his co-conspirators ways to better evade detection by legitimate law enforcement officials while transporting illegal narcotics.
“He also discussed recruiting additional individuals and expanding the conspiracy up the East Coast. At the time of his arrest, Vincent was carrying his law enforcement badge from the NCSO, even though he was no longer employed there, as well as a 9 millimeter semi-automatic pistol and ammunition.”
Throughout the operation, Brice wrote, Vincent attempted to transport 45 kilograms of cocaine, 50 kilograms of heroin, and $2.75 million in illegal narcotics proceeds. “For these actions, he received $18,500 in bribe payments.”
Brice wrote Vincent’s criminal activity was extended, serious, and corrosive to the integrity of various law enforcement agencies in North Carolina.
“Vincent did not suffer a momentary lapse in judgment … rather, he repeatedly played a key role in drug trafficking operations and proactively recruited and trained other co-conspirators. In total, Vincent benefited personally from these operations by accepting $18,500 worth of bribe payments.”
The criminal activity Vincent entered into and helped lead, Brice wrote, involved the participants repeatedly transporting purported illegal narcotics across state borders while armed, and standing ready to use the trappings of their respective law enforcement positions if questioned. “In time, the conspiracy grew to include 15 members representing four different law enforcement and correctional organizations. Perhaps most disturbing was Vincent’s decision to use the very law enforcement training and experience that he had received as a deputy sheriff to coach his co-conspirators to avoid detection by legitimate law enforcement officials.
“Such extended, multi-year criminal activity by law enforcement officers corrodes the integrity of the organizations they claim to serve and undermines public confidence in law enforcement and the justice system.”
While notable he was the first to plea, Brice says, “To the extent that the court wishes to credit such acceptance beyond the points allotted in Vincent’s guidelines calculation, it may be appropriate to consider the lower end of Vincent’s guidelines range.”
He writes, however, “the need to justly punish Vincent, the need for the court’s sentence to reflect the seriousness of these offenses and their harm to respect for the law, and the need to deter future criminal conduct, the government respectfully requests a custodial sentence within the guidelines range of 108 to 135 months.”
In the event Vincent’s continued cooperation warrants a reduction in his sentence, the government, in its discretion, will seek such relief, Brice wrote.
(Lance Martin is the Editor and Publisher of www.rrspin.com. Permission was obtained to publish this story.)