Columbus lawyer charged in 40-count federal indictment

By Laurie Bernstein--bio- email

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - 31 counts of money laundering, three counts of false statements, one count of attempted bribery, and one count of witness tampering.

Those are some of the charges Columbus Attorney Mark Shelnutt now faces, all stemming from his representation of convicted drug dealer Torrance Hill.

Back in 2005, police arrested Hill as the ringleader of one of the biggest drug operations Columbus has ever seen, with $38 million in cash, marijuana and cocaine seized by police.

The bust also led to the arrest and conviction of Columbus Police Officer Larry Lightning, who was working to sell cocaine with one of Torrance Hill's cohorts.

According to U.S. District Attorneys working the case, Shelnutt was aiding and abetting Hill's drug organization, as well as laundering money for them.

The indictment ties several transactions involving drug money to the CB&T account of Shelnutt's wife, as well as cash payments for a mortgage on a house in Florida.

In addition, Shelnutt is accused of trying to bribe a U.S. District Attorney assigned to the Torrance Hill case with University of Georgia football tickets, as well as tampering with a witness by the name of J.S.

After the indictment came down, many suspected that person to be Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Julia Slater, who used to work for Shelnutt's law firm.

According to Assistant U.S. District Attorney Joe Newman, J.S. is not Julia Slater.

In a statement released Friday, Slater says " Because my testimony to the Federal Grand Jury was almost 6 months ago, I thought the matter had been resolved. I was surprised by the indictment yesterday. I will not comment on the pending case, but I am confident that the judicial system will reveal the truth."

Shelnutt stands by his actions throughout the Hill case, and says he did nothing illegal or wrong.

"That will all come out in court, where it should come out. We're looking forward to that day, and fighting this all the way to the end. We're going to win," said Shelnutt.