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JUSTICE MUST BE WON

Alabama/The Mobile News

Jockisch is found not guilty by jury


Former commissioner acquitted of misusing campaign funds; he remains jailed on federal convictions


Thursday, September 29, 2005


 

By STEVE MYERS
Staff Reporter


Former Mobile County Commissioner Freeman Jockisch shook his fists and
exclaimed, "Praise the Lord!" when jurors acquitted him Wednesday of
misusing campaign funds.


It was a bittersweet victory, however, because the ousted commissioner was
taken back into custody after the trial to serve the remainder of a
33-month federal sentence at a federal work camp near Talladega.
Jockisch was convicted in 2004 of 19 charges of lying on tax returns and
ethics forms. In that trial, jurors decided he had hidden income that he
earned from his fire sprinkler company, which had worked on public schools
in the county.


His state trial focused on whether he had illegally pocketed about $26,000
from his campaign account. State law limits how campaign funds can be
spent and bars them from being converted to personal use.
During the 2-day trial, the state attorney general's office pointed out
discrepancies between Jockisch's campaign finance reports and his banking
records. The prosecution argued that those forms showed that Jockisch paid
himself money that he wasn't owed.


"What Mr. Jockisch did was he dipped into his campaign funds, moved it to
his personal account (and) converted it," said Assistant Attorney General
Stephanie Billingslea.


Referring to the testimony of Debbie Jockisch, Freeman Jockisch's wife,
the prosecutor said, "she didn't figure out that they were loans until Mr.
Jockisch got indicted, and they tried to create a paper trail" to explain
the transactions.


Jockisch's defense contended he merely repaid him self for loans that he
had made to five campaigns over 20 years -- and that he was owed even
more.


Defense lawyer Arthur Madden acknowledged that those campaign disclosures
contained errors, but said the case wasn't about the forms. And he
admitted that Jockisch couldn't come up with complete documentation to
prove he had loaned the money.


But, Madden said, "Mrs. Jockisch said they were loans. The circumstances
suggest they were loans. They have to prove they're not loans."
The jurors apparently agreed with Madden, reaching their verdict in about
an hour. Bonnie Stokley said as she left the courthouse that she and the
other 11 jurors agreed that some transactions were questionable, but "the
state didn't give us enough evidence. ... They didn't prove it."


Before they started to deliberate, Escambia Circuit Judge Joe Brogden told
them they had to consider two elements of the charge: whether campaign
money was converted to personal use and whether it was done intentionally.

Both Jockisch and his wife started to cry after the verdict was read.
Earlier in the day, Debbie Jockisch was brought to tears when Billingslea
cross-examined her.


Under questioning from Madden, Debbie Jockisch said she wrote several
notes, later submitted to the prosecution, that tried to explain various
transactions. She said she handled her family finances as well as those
for her husband's initial campaigns, starting in 1984.


On one note, she listed contributions to her husband's 1988 campaign for
commission er (which he lost) and wrote that the $14,600 "should have been
listed as contribution loans."


Asked about an $8,365.05 loan listed on a 1992 campaign disclosure, Debbie
Jockisch said that reflected payments from her and her husband for certain
campaign expenses. At Madden's request, she recounted which companies had
been paid with personal funds.


But when Billingslea questioned her, Debbie Jockisch repeatedly testified
that she couldn't remember exactly how much the campaign owed her and her
husband at various times. "That was 13 years ago," she said at one point.
"You just testified on the record that the campaign owed you money, but
you don't know how much?" Billingslea asked. Debbie Jockisch replied that
she didn't.


As the questioning wore on, Debbie Jockisch started to cry, dabbing her
eyes with a tissue.


John Gavin, who handled the finances for the 1996 campaign, testified that
he sat down with the Jockisches in 2001 and tried to figure out exactly
how much the campaign owed them over the years. He said he told them to
pay themselves the excess in the campaign because it was their money.
Richard Reeves, a special agent with the attorney general's office,
testified that Gavin told him in April 2004 that he had compiled the
figures on Feb. 13, 14, and 15, 2004 -- right after Jockisch was indicted
on the state charge and after he already had been indicted on the federal
charges.


For some transactions, Gavin admitted that he had incomplete information.
For a 1984 loan of $7,000, he said he used a check register notation. He
based a $7,000 loan in 1999 on a campaign disclosure.
Billingslea noted those instances of incomplete information in her closing
argument.


The campaign's 1999 annual report didn't include any information about a
$7,000 loan, nor did the first few reports for 2000, she said. But then in
September 2000, she said, the campaign filed a report that listed a June
1999 loan.


Reeves testified Tuesday that the campaign's checking account did not show
a $7,000 deposit to correspond with the loan listed on the form.
"He says in 1999 he loaned his campaign $7,000," Billingslea said. "1999
was just a few years ago. You don't see a check evidencing that. You don't
see anything. ... All you see on the forms is money going back" to
Jockisch.


 

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