Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mark Turner the Short, Sad and Important Story

Nothing about Mark Turner's legal story is short, but all of it is sad and important. After writing reams about Mark, I want to make it short and unencumbered for anyone interested, and short for all who are uninterested in the tedium of how an innocent man is sent to prison, because this could be you. It could be me. I believe Turner was wrongly convicted, and no, I'm not an attorney, but I do read well.

Mark Turner is a native of the Pensacola, Florida area. He owned a used car business for many years and was very successful.  Eventually he developed an Internet auto sales business that was even a greater success. Turner says he sold more cars on the Internet in 2003 than anyone else in the world, and has a letter from EBay confirming it.

Part of his business was selling used cars for a large Chevrolet dealership in Pensacola - and this venture was profitable for both of them and spanned a period of 20 years. The manager for the dealership was Mark's best friend - about a 16 year friendship.

As a point of interest, I first heard of Mark Turner while writing about the murders of Bud and Melanie Billings in Beulah, Florida in the summer of 2009. Bud Billings was also in the auto industry. Everyone knew everyone. Mark believes the man who committed the murders, Patrick Gonzalez, was hired to kill him several years earlier. Gonzalez came through Turner's garage and tried to enter the house. Turner chased him with a glass bottle. Gonzalez, assuming it was him, had left his car door open and the car running. He got away but Turner got a good look at him. When Mark filed the police report he did not know the assailant, but when Gonzalez' face appeared on television in connection to the Billings, Mark recognized him immediately. Mark's police report has been updated.

After September 11, 2001, business took a nose dive. The owner of the Chevrolet dealership expressed interest in buying Mark's Internet business.  A business proposal was written, Mark moved his computers and personnel next door to the Chevy store, at their request. Eventually it all moved onto the Chevrolet premises. No money changed hands. Apparently there was no plan to pay Turner.

Turner filed a $36 million suit in civil court. That case is still making its way through the courts.

The State Attorney's criminal case against Turner began in 2003.

In September 2004 Hurricane Ivan arrived and Mark and the Chevy dealer both lost their homes. Mark's home was collateral on his business dealings with the dealer. The civil suit was filed a few months prior to Ivan. Turner needed to buy another home, and to do so he needed to pay all of his outstanding debt to the dealer. His realtor's closing attorney was told by Moore that he was owed $205,000. Turner can document that he owed much less, but the tension was thick and the dealer was powerful, so the realtor cut the check for $205,000.

Mark's criminal trial revealed that the Chevy comptroller knew nothing about the $205,000 - it was never on the company books. The Chevy dealer's attorney knew about the check, however, and supplied a record of the payment to Turner's attorney. The $205,000 is important because the criminal Restitution Hearing put the amount owed at $83,000 but the $205,000 was never credited to Turner in any court proceeding.

In 2004, documents concerning Mark's civil suit against the Chevy dealer were in the Escambia County Sheriff's custody because the Florida State Attorney's office ask the Sheriff to investigate Turner. There is a video tape of a Sheriff deputy investigator telling Turner he [the investigator] has been tasked with investigating Turner and then preparing a case against him [Turner]. The investigator's words: "...the finger is pointed at you." In the criminal trial, the investigator from the Sheriff's office admits that the State Attorney General ordered the investigation of Mark.

Documents concerning Turner's civil case against the Chevy dealer were in the Sheriff's office. I can only surmise how they got there - perhaps at the Attorney General's request? The dealer's insurance attorney was given complete access to these records. In other words, documents concerning an unrelated civil suit were given to the Chevy dealer's attorney. Those documents actually left the premises - the chain of security of the Sheriff's office - in return for the attorney "indexing" the contents of the box(s).

Kevin Hausfeld was that insurance attorney.

Turner has Hausfeld's written offer to the Sheriff's office:
"Please contact me if you feel you need more information/evidence to prosecute Mark Turner for fraud, perjury, conspiracy, theft, embezzlement...etc."
By July 2006, Mark was arrested. It took 3 years for the Attorney General to find 'probable cause.' But there was no probable cause, unless it was Turner's refusal to drop his civil case against the Chevy dealer.

Mark was told his wife would be arrested unless he dropped the civil case. He refused. Nancy Turner was arrested and her bond was set at $250,000. The Turners, with Mark's business gone, had to pay $25,000 on the bond. Mark's bond was only $15,000. He paid $1,500 to get out of jail. By the way, neither Mark or Nancy were mirandized. As of August 26th, 2009 Turner had still never had his rights read to him. I believe that is still true today.

Mark Turner

Nancy Turner had lived her entire life in the area. She is a professional and has never been in trouble with the law. Once she went in front of the Judge, the prosecutor said he did not plan on pursuing charges against her, but it cost her $25,000 to go home to her children.

In late July 2006 the suit was brought against Turner in criminal court. The charges were Racketeering, Money Laundering and Grand Theft. There were two counts of Grand Theft over $100,000. At the end of the criminal trial and in the Restitution Hearing, Turner owed the Chevrolet dealer $83,000. No matter how you do the math, $83,000 is less than $100,000.

So now there is a civil suit against the the Chevy dealer and a criminal suit against Mark Turner, but the  Chevy dealer was not a "victim" or named in anyway in the criminal suit against Turner.

Many, many charges were brought against Mark, each, it seems, with the object of getting him to drop his civil case against the Chevy dealer. Many of those charges were dropped as soon as the trial began.

Eventually there were two plea deals - both dependent on all charges being dropped against the Chevy dealer - but remember, the Chevy dealer was not a victim in the prosecutor's criminal trial - yet. Both plea deals included prison time. The last expired in March 2008. Mark refused both.

According to Turner, the Chevy dealer offered to forgo all monies owed to him by Turner, in exchange for dropping the civil suit. I'm unclear as to the documentation of this claim

The Chevy dealer filed no lawsuit against Turner at any time, up until, and including, through today.

Over time, the prosecutor made 20-25 amendments to the charges.

If you are wandering why a prosecutor might bring a criminal suit on behalf of a person not claiming damage in the suit, it might be because the Chevy dealer is very wealthy and a major philanthropist in town, and supplies some autos to law enforcement in the Pensacola area. It might be because the prosecutor is rumored to be known for filing inappropriate racketeering charges. It might be because the prosecutor owed the Chevy dealer 'something.' It might be because of friendship. It might be because the prosecutor had a personal vendetta.

Three years after the criminal case was filed, the prosecutor finally maintained that the Chevy dealer was the victim of theft by Mark Turner. Again, the dealer did not file suit against Turner, or file a report to Police or Sheriff's offices that Turner stole either cars or money - or anything.

The trial was clearly a mess. There was undoubted prosecutorial misconduct, as was shown in Mark's appeal. 

1) For owing $83,000, which in most businesses would be considered a line of credit, because that is how the Chevy dealer and Mark did business, Turner was sentenced to three concurrent prison terms of 12.5 years followed by 17.5 years of probation.

2) After Mark's July 2006 arrest, the State filed their first charges. Other charges followed, but Racketeering did not appear until November 2007.

3) The prosecutor told the jury the Chevy dealer sued Mark for the $205,000 but that is not true, and the dealer's own attorney testified to such. The dealer has never sued Turner for anything.

4) Mark was charged with Money Laundering. He closed out a bank account and placed the money in his civil attorney's trust account. As needed, Mark received money back to pay bills, etc. and eventually to open a bank account. That constituted a pattern of Racketeering and Money Laundering, according to the prosecutor. All movement of monies was well-documented, and in no way different from Turner's normal spending habits.

The civil attorney who kept the money in trust was not allowed to testify for Mark in the trial. In fact, he was threatened with a suit against himself.

5) The prosecutor brought up information about Mark that was not admitted into evidence and should have never been allowed to be introduced - which can be seen as a means to prejudice the jury - in the Appeals attorney's words:
"there is a considerable amount of uncharged misconduct," including the Prosecutor commenting in closing arguments on matters outside the record. Similar injustices happened over and over.
6) The verdict form included no instructions about how to decide upon two incidents of Racketeering, and the verdict form is incomplete. It did not specify what Turner was guilty of. Some instructions suggested if Mark was guilty of one charge, then he was guilty of all three.

The Restitution Hearing was held after the trial, and the Judge himself stated on court transcripts that the charges did not add up to what the prosecutor claimed, and that the sentencing would have to address in the Appeal.

Translated, Turner's sentencing was not appropriate for the verdict - he did not owe $100,000 or over. He owed $83,000 which would not have constituted the severe penalty he received.

But how odd is it that the Judge knowingly let a sentence roll by that did not fit the crime. And the Judge said he expected the Appeal Court to 'fix it.' The Appeal Court did not 'fix it."

But here is the terrible thing about this Judge and prosecutor. The Restitution Hearing was held after the trial, and by law all evidence of the Restitution Hearing was excluded from the Appeals process.

7) Turner's Appeals attorney made this astonishing statement in her rebuttal:
The other crimes evidence in this case was so pervasive it went beyond the point of being an incident and became a feature of the trial.
Mark learned that his Appeal was denied about the last week of August 2010. He did not tell his wife. He decided to commit suicide. At this time, he believed he had three weeks before appearing before the court for sentencing. The only explanation I have for suicide is from two videos Turner made after hearing about the denial. Both of the videos are in my left sidebar.

In the first he said he would kill himself within 30 days - but probably much less. There were two bottom lines: 1) to provide insurance money for his family, his parents and friends who had mortgaged their homes to help with his legal defense, and 2) he wanted his children to be able to say their father was deceased rather than serving a life sentence in prison.

The two videos were made on the same day. He said there would be more to come. Sometime not long after taping, he received word that there was a warrant out for his arrest and his bond had been revoked. This is not the way the court told him it would happen. He was not a flight risk. Had he been, he would have skipped after the conviction.

So on Wednesday August 25th, he left a voicemail for his wife telling her to go to a certain place where she would find another message. That message told her he was committing suicide, and that she must call authorities. He did not tell her where he was. He drove to a wooded area, took 80 Valiums, 40 Lortabs and tried to vent exhaust into the car. The police found him barely alive. He was sent to the E.R. where his clothes had to be cut from his body. He lived and his family is so grateful, and his church is faithfully praying for him and his family.

Mark left love letters to his wife and at least one other video in the intended-suicide car. Authorities confiscated them and a US Marshall indicated that she would not get them back. Her attorney is trying to retrieve those items for her.

If there is any press in the Pensacola area about the suicide attempt, or the denial of the Appeal Court, or the arrest warrant and revocation of Mark's bail, I can't find it. If there is a news blackout we have to ask if it is intended to protect the Chevy dealer and the high-profile prosecutor.

I am not an attorney. All I can say is I've read the documents from the court trial over and over, as well as the Appeal. I believe Mark Turner has been wrongly accused, wrongly prosecuted and wrongly convicted.

How does a man get three life sentences for an $83,000 debt? How does a man get a sentence like this, with no one but the State suing him? How can a person be convicted of Money Laundering when the money transfers were completely documented, and showed his usual business being conducted, with Mark receiving the money from his civil attorney's trust account and eventually a new bank account?

Mark's wife Nancy is beginning work on a Post Conviction Appeal. If you have the skills to help, she will be so grateful. Just leave a comment at Mark's website (see link below) or anywhere on my blog.
See links to all of my articles about Mark Turner below.

This is a sad and important story. It could be you. I could be me. Mark is someone's child. His parents are still alive. His three sons are devastated. The family had genuine hope in the Appeal Court.  How does anyone get a sentence like this when you have harmed no one?

Related and Background:

Mark Turner Update August 2010: Mark Turner Suicide Attempt

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