A Richmond lawyer once honored on national television for her work with juvenile offenders will give up her law license and serve three months in jail after admitting to smuggling a cell phone and narcotics to an inmate.
The lawyer fell in love with her client and was taken advantage of, her attorney said.
Dana L. Tapper, 30, pleaded guilty to three felonies in Prince George County Circuit Court on Aug. 2, according to the county prosecutor’s office. A prosecutor withdrew three other felony charges, court records showed. The deal provided for a 20-year sentence with all but three months suspended.
Circuit Judge W. Allan Sharrett imposed the sentence.
Tapper reportedly made numerous visits to Karon Porter, an inmate at the Riverside Regional Jail in Prince George. Porter is now serving a 30-year sentence for leading police on a car chase that ended with a fatal crash.
A prosecutor’s summary of the evidence described links between Tapper and a cellphone seized from Porter. Another inmate told a detective Tapper was continually delivering to Porter easily-concealed strips of the narcotic drug Suboxone.
Search warrants uncovered records of extensive cell phone communication among Tapper, Porter and Porter’s mother. In one month’s time this year, Tapper and Porter logged more than 3,400 texts or calls. The two also used video chat to communicate, authorities said.
Some of the communications seemed to involve drugs. Among the texts recovered by police was a Jan. 21 message from Tapper to Porter: “so how would I get 50 strips to bring in for your tomorrow if that’s the case.”
The prosecutor’s summary conceded no Suboxone was recovered from Porter, from his jail cell, or from Tapper’s residence.
Questions about relationship
Prosecutors said Tapper did not represent Porter on any matter, but Tapper’s lawyer, Richmond attorney Craig S. Cooley, maintained Tapper was representing the inmate on his appeal.
“I’m not sure she made an appearance on his behalf, but she certainly was counsel to him,” Cooley said.
Tapper had become romantically involved with her client, Cooley said.
“She fell in love with this guy. There’s no explaining the heart. And he took advantage of her,” Cooley said.
While Virginia State Bar records showed Tapper was active and in good standing as she pleaded guilty, Cooley said she had closed her office and tried to give up her license before charges were filed. The VSB would not let her surrender her license without some understanding of the situation, Cooley said. Lawyers on both sides said surrender of her bar card was not part of the plea deal.
Tapper was a University of Virginia law student in 2013 when she was honored on the Ellen DeGeneres Show for her volunteer work helping youthful offenders transfer out of juvenile detention centers in Virginia.
She worked with the JustChildren program at the Charlottesville-based Legal Aid Justice Center and also participated in the law school’s Child Advocacy Clinic.
In recognition of her generous charity work, she was presented with a $10,000 check from the online photo service Shutterfly, and then, while cameras rolled, handed a second $10,000 check from the company.
After serving her three-month sentence, Tapper will be on supervised probation until released by the court and on unsupervised probation for life, the prosecutor’s statement said.
Tapper’s case was investigated jointly by jail authorities and the Chesterfield Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Prince George County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Mark W. Barnard and Chesterfield County Special Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney E. Temple Roach.
“The investigation is ongoing,” the prosecutor’s statement said.
Cooley said he did not expect additional charges against Tapper, but believed that the circumstances could give rise to charges against others connected to Porter.