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Feds probe alleged bribery try in convict's case

Undated photo of Rodney Morrison.

Undated photo of Rodney Morrison. Credit: Handout

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether an alleged attempt to bribe a juror affected the case of Poospatuck Indian reservation cigarette magnate Rodney Morrison, court papers show.

The alleged bribery attempt was made over a cellphone that a juror in the case picked up next to his car in the parking lot of the federal courthouse in Central Islip, according to the papers filed recently by Eastern District federal prosecutors.

And the bribe allegation could further complicate an already lengthy case and touch on legal issues involving double jeopardy and jury tampering that have not been settled by the Supreme Court, at least one legal expert said.

After a six-month trial, Morrison was convicted in 2008 of running a multimillion-dollar cigarette bootlegging operation from the Mastic reservation, and also of being a felon in possession of a gun. But Morrison was acquitted of gaining control of the contraband cigarette trade through the murder of a rival, arson, robbery and extortion.

U.S. District Judge Denis Hurley sentenced Morrison to the maximum 10 years in prison on the gun charge, which he is serving, but has yet to sentence him on the racketeering of bootleg cigarette charge. He could face up to 20 years on that count.

While that resentencing has been pending, federal prosecutors revealed in December they recently learned one of the jurors had been approached with the bribe offer during jury deliberations four years ago by a person the juror believed was a member of the Morrison family.

The juror was not identified by name or gender.

Under questioning by investigators, the juror said the caller offered "increasing sums of money" to acquit Morrison, all of which were turned down.

Upon being polygraphed, however, the juror said the caller was told of a willingness to accept a bribe, the papers said.

The juror said that the remark was made "merely to end the contact with the caller," and no bribe was actually accepted. But the juror added that the episode may have been divulged "to two other deliberating jurors."

A hearing is scheduled next week before Hurley on whether the alleged bribe attempt could change the outcome of the trial because of jury tampering.

David Moran, a professor of law at the University of Michigan and an expert on double jeopardy, said the effect of the alleged bribe raises issues of jury tampering and double jeopardy that higher courts have not settled.

Among them are whether the government can successfully try to retry Morrison on the charges of which he was acquitted or whether the defense can successfully argue that Morrison's convictions should be overturned.

One of Morrison's attorneys, Richard Levitt of Manhattan, declined to comment Thursday, as did Eastern District spokesman Robert Nardoza.

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