Monday, October 4, 2010

Attorney's Former Secretary Turns Out Not to Be 'Family'

When I have a relaxing meal with former co-workers, once in a rare while we'll share a pitcher of margaritas. Not once have they ever offered me a Percocet or a Xanax, although we have certainly commiserated over some stress-inducing times on the job.

Whew. Because as much as you might need a Xanax or two, that can get you in a world of trouble, as Georgia attorney J. Mark Shelnutt has discovered.

This tale is a hot mess, and I encourage you to read it for yourself, but in a nutshell, last summer Shelnutt (I swear I didn't plan that) had a half dozen or so lunches with his former secretary of eight years, Brandy Rivera. It sounds like he thought they were pretty tight. He'd loaned her the down payment for a car and even co-signed the note. She'd testified on his behalf the previous year when he was acquitted on 31 counts of some very serious criminal charges, including intimidating a grand jury witness and attempting to bribe a federal prosecutor.

Rivera still did some work for Shelnutt in the evenings. Heck, at their last lunch, she even asked him for a birthday present he'd promised her. So no doubt he was genuinely surprised when the Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested him for drug distribution charges the next day:

The GBI warrants accuse Shelnutt of giving two prescription pills -- a Percocet pain tablet and Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug -- to Rivera during lunch on July 7. The attorney also was charged with giving Rivera a single Xanax over lunch on July 14; one Xanax over lunch on July 19; one Xanax over lunch on July 20; two Xanax at his office on July 27; three Xanax over lunch on Aug. 11 and two dihydrocodeine (which is used both as a pain medication and for respiratory congestion) over lunch on Aug. 27.

Shelnutt thought Rivera was "family." (I guess he also thought she needed some Xanax.) But he doesn't anymore, because in addition to her day job as the county district attorney's secretary, it turns out she was an undercover informant for the GBI. (Is anybody else wondering who pays for all those government resources spent to bust someone for giving a dozen or so prescription pills to a pal?)

There are some lessons to be learned here. Under Georgia state law, if you give a prescription pill to anyone, that is "considered felony distribution of a controlled drug." So stick with the margaritas and the commiseration. And remember, signing a promissory note for a car does not a family member make.

I'm gonna make a big deductive leap here, and assume Rivera isn't getting that birthday present from Shelnutt.


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