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Court reporter pleads guilty to obstruction

A Wise County court reporter has admitted helping a lawyer try to dodge federal drug charges.

Ernest Benko, 67, was accused of recording depositions of federal witnesses at the behest of lawyer Stuart Collins. Authorities contended Benko knew that he was recording false testimony designed to undermine the government’s case against Collins.

Later, Benko allegedly told FBI agents he had no idea Collins was involved in illicit drug activity.

Benko pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of obstruction of an official proceeding and one count of conspiracy to cause false statements and obstruct an official proceeding. He faces up to 25 years imprisonment and a potential fine of $500,000.

“Lying to federal investigators is a serious crime,” said U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy in a news release announcing Benko’s guilty plea.

Collins pleaded guilty in May to four felony charges. He and Benko both are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 10.

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