Mississippi Insurance Agent Seeks New Trial in Federal Scam Conviction

March 24, 2010

Ecru, Mississippi insurance agent Ken Nowlin claims in court documents that he was given faulty advice by his attorney in a government kickback case and wants a new trial.

In documents filed this month in U.S. District Court in Oxford, Nowlin alleges his attorney, Tony Farese of Ashland, forced him to plead guilty to a federal insurance scam, and that Lafayette County Supervisor Johnny Morgan lied to try to take a big insurance contract from him.

Nowlin seeks to get his conviction vacated and his guilty plea set aside.

The government has not yet filed a response to Nowlin’s motion.

Nowlin was sentenced in 2008 to 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy charges related to his role in a scheme involving Lafayette County’s health care coverage. Nowlin, a former supervisor, also paid $275,942 in restitution to Lafayette County.

Former county supervisor Gary Massey and Nowlin were charged with conspiracy, public corruption and money laundering. Prosecutors said Massey accepted payments of more than $827,000 during his term as supervisor for the Lafayette County Employee Health Care Contract paid through Nowlin, the agent on record at the time.

Before he became a supervisor in 1995, Massey was the insurance agent of record for Lafayette County. Federal prosecutors claimed Massey used his influence to get Nowlin the job as insurance agent of record in exchange for the commission.

Prosecutors said Nowlin would receive payment for services in two checks made out to his office from plan administrator Total Plan Services. Nowlin took the checks and told his office to write a separate one to Massey for a “consulting fee.”

Massey was sentenced to three years in prison.

Both men have completed their sentences and are on supervised release.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Nowlin’s conviction.

In new court documents, Nowlin asks that his new attorneys be allowed to question Farese and Morgan. Nowlin alleges Farese “coerced” him into pleading guilty by advising him that he was guilty and that he had to plead rather than face a possible 75-year sentence if found guilty in a trial.

“Absolute falsehoods,” Farese told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo. “It’s not uncommon in the criminal defense business for people who become disenchanted to file these kinds of charges.”

Morgan, the current Board of Supervisors president who owns a large insurance company, said he knew nothing about Nowlin’s claims.

Nowlin claims his family insurance agency was Morgan’s main competitor in the region before his indictment.

He also claims Farese set out to help Morgan and Lafayette County in its lawsuit against its health insurance contractor, Trustmark Life Insurance Co., and its administrator, Total Plan Services Inc. And he says Farese rushed Nowlin’s case to a plea to help defeat Massey’s re-election in 2007.

A federal judge recently closed the case against Total Plan, saying no reasonable jury could find it did anything wrong.

Also, Trustmark settled with Lafayette County, which sought damages for profits the company made during the time Nowlin and Massey were alleged to have been involved with the insurance contract.

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