A Wise County lawyer accused of using and sharing illegal drugs with former clients – and getting them to lie about it under oath – has pleaded guilty to four federal felony charges and faces 20 months in prison.
The plea by Stuart Collins follows a judge’s rejection of his contention that some of the charges against him were based on witness statements protected by the attorney work product doctrine.
Collins, 42, was accused of snorting cocaine at his office conference room table with a former client, in an account recited in an FBI affidavit. Other charges involved the use of fraud in obtaining prescription painkillers.
Collins also was charged with having former clients give sworn testimony before a court reporter that he was not involved with drugs. Those allegations apparently led to charges against the court reporter, Ernie Benko, who now faces six counts related to allegedly false testimony.
In his plea agreement Monday, Collins admitting obtaining controlled substances by fraud. If the court accepts the deal, Collins will be sentenced to 20 months, a sentence higher than the normal guideline range for those crimes.
The above-guidelines sentence reflects the prosecution’s “insistence that Collins’ obstructive conduct be taken into account in determining the appropriate punishment,” said U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy in a news release.
Collins argued the recorded witness statements – never used by him – were attorney work product and should not form the basis of criminal charges.
The statements were not recorded by any of Collins’ attorneys, the government responded. “A defendant who happens to be an attorney cannot use the veil of ‘attorney work product’ to hide his own attempts to obstruct justice and coach witnesses,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary T. Lee in opposition.
U.S. District Judge James P. Jones denied Collins’ motion to dismiss charges based on the false witness statements on May 16. Collins’ guilty plea followed four days later.
Sentencing is set for Sept. 10 in Abingdon federal court.
Abingdon attorney David Scyphers, who represents Collins, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.