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Court reporter gets 15 months for obstruction

lady-justice-55959081A Norton court reporter who helped a lawyer try to undermine a federal drug prosecution has been sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Ernest J. Benko, 67, pleaded guilty in June to lying to federal agents about his knowledge of lawyer Stuart Collins’ involvement in illegal drug use. Collins had hired Benko to take sworn statements from witnesses that would have contradicted any incriminating testimony.

“Lying to federal investigators is a serious crime,” U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy said in June.

In court documents, Benko agreed with government lawyers that a 15-month sentence is “appropriate punishment and provides adequate deterrence to others.”

Benko submitted dozens of letters and postcards to U.S. District Judge James P. Jones in support of his cause – the writers praising Benko’s integrity and his good work in the community.

In June, Benko pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of an official proceeding and one count of conspiracy to cause false statements and obstruct an official proceeding.

Collins pleaded guilty in May to four felony charges and agreed to a recommended 20-month sentence. His sentencing, originally set for Sept. 10, has been pushed back to December.

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