Jan. 23, 2003 – Wayne Chinnery, former drug policy adviser to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday for his conviction on four counts of perjury.
Chief District Judge Thomas K. Moore handed down the sentence after finding that Chinnery lied during his October 2001 trial in District Court on charges of third-degree assault and violating a 19-year-old woman's civil rights by pistol-whipping her during a drug search in May of 2000.
A jury acquitted him of all three charges that had been brought against him in connection with the incident that sent the woman to Roy L. Schneider Hospital for treatment. A month later, a federal grand jury indicted him on the charges of lying under oath at that trial — about being a lawyer, among other things.
Last May, he went to trial in District Court on those charges, and a jury convicted him on all four counts. (See "Chinnery convicted on 4 counts of perjury".)
Chinnery's lawyers said on Wednesday that they would file an appeal.
Chinnery was found guilty of falsifying his educational background, law degree and work experience as an attorney. Prosecutors said the misrepresentations led to his appointment as head of the Law Enforcement Planning Commission, a position he held from 1999 to 2000. In that capacity, he also served as the governor's drug-policy adviser and head of the territory's Narcotics Strike Force.
Chinnery admitted at the May 2002 trial that he had lied earlier on the witness stand about his educational and professional credentials, but his lawyer, George Hodge, argued that the lies were not material to his being acquitted in the October 2001 assault trial.
At the sentencing on Wednesday, defense attorney Steven Brusch also told the court that the false statements made by Chinnery were inconsequential. He intimated that the court was lashing out at Chinnery in the perjury matter because of disappointment at his acquittal on the earlier charges. "What may be happening here is vindictive sentencing," he said.
But federal prosecutors disagreed sharply, reading portions of the trial transcript in which defense lawyers used Chinnery's false statements in arguments to the jury. "That was nothing more than to set the stage for questions asked under direct examination," Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Jenkins said.
Moore agreed that Chinnery won acquittal in the pistol-whipping case based on his credibility as the governor's drug-policy adviser, a position he gained by virtue of his purported education and legal experience.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Chinnery could have received a maximum sentence of five years in prison on the perjury convictions.
"The acquittal [on the pistol-whipping charges] stands," assistant U.S. Attorney Hugh P. Mabe, U.S. Justice Department spokesman, said Thursday morning. But he said the judge "can look at the conduct and what the charges are to make a decision as to what the proper sentence is for the perjury counts."
During the perjury trial, Chinnery told the jurors that he graduated from Hofstra University, but Jenkins said records show that he was dismissed from the institution for poor academic standing. Chinnery also testified that he received a law degree from Hofstra, that he was an attorney and that he worked for law firms in the Virgin Islands; none of that was true, Jenkins said.
Jenkins argued that jurors in the pistol-whipping trial relied on those false statements in part in deciding whether to believe Chinnery's testimony about the assault charges. Chinnery testified at the time that he was justified in using some force on the drug sweep that led to the confrontation with the woman and that his actions did not constitute an assault or violation of anyone's civil rights.
Jenkins said Chinnery had no law-enforcement experience and that he was deemed eligible to hold the positions of drug policy adviser and Narcotics Strike Force director because he presumably had a college education. Chinnery also claimed to be an attorney during his run for senator in 2000, Jenkins said, although he had failed the Virgin Islands Bar exam.
Turnbull relieved Chinnery of both jobs in August of 2000, shortly after Chinnery was charged with assaulting the mother of one of his children. Territorial Court Judge Rhys Hodge dismissed that aggravated assault charge after the woman testified that Chinnery had not hit her and that a statement she made to police about the incident at the time had been blown out of proportion.
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