BY JOE GYAN JR.
Advocate staff writer
July 20, 2012
A judge refused Thursday to throw out felony theft charges that accuse local lawyer Peter Q. John of taking money from the Baton Rouge rap music label Trill Entertainment.
John’s attorney, Ferdinand Valteau, argued to state District Judge Mike Erwin that what a grand jury called theft was nothing more than a “negotiated civil settlement” between Trill and three men allegedly attacked by two Trill managers. John represented the three men.
“There’s no fraud,” Valteau said. “There is no criminal activity by Mr. John.”
Prosecutor Charles Grey countered that whether John’s actions were legal is a question for a jury to answer.
Erwin agreed and denied John’s motion to quash the theft charges. John also is seeking to have the rest of the charges in his January 2010 indictment dismissed. That motion, and other defense motions, will be argued Jan. 16.
Grey, in a July 13 written response to the motion to quash the theft charges, said the state’s theory is that John “took money from Trill Entertainment by procuring witnesses to lie to settle a civil suit.” John “knowingly acquired a portion of this illicit money in the form of attorney fees, with intent to deprive Trill of the money permanently,” he wrote.
John, who has advertised himself as “The Thugs Lawyer,” is charged with three counts each of perjury, criminal conspiracy to commit perjury, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and felony theft. He has pleaded innocent.
One pending defense motion asks that prosecutors and witnesses be prohibited at trial from referring to John as “The Thugs Lawyer.”
John’s indictment accuses him of interfering in a criminal investigation of two July 4, 2005, incidents in which local rival rapper Bruce “Beelow” Moore was shot and two other men — Timothy Carter and Demond Eames — were attacked, allegedly by Trill managers Melvin Vernell Jr., Marcus Roach and others.
John, 41, of Baton Rouge, is accused of plotting to have attempted murder charges against Vernell and Roach dropped.
Moore was shot in front of Shop Smart Music and Fashion, a store he owned on North Sherwood Forest Drive. He survived the shooting. Eames also was outside the store at the time. Carter claimed he was attacked outside a Piggly Wiggly store on Choctaw Drive shortly before the incident at Shop Smart.
Prosecutors charged Vernell and Roach in September 2005 with attempted second-degree murder, armed robbery and illegal use of weapons. Carter’s and Moore’s lawsuits were filed in October and November of 2005, respectively. Prosecutors dismissed the criminal charges against Vernell and Roach in September 2006 at the request of Moore, Carter and Eames.
John contends he negotiated a settlement with Trill — on behalf of Moore, Carter and Eames — in February 2006 in a civil suit stemming from the July 2005 incidents. Trill agreed to pay “certain sums of money” to the three men as part of the settlement agreement, he maintains.
Prosecutors filed new charges in May 2009, charging Vernell and Roach with not only attempted second-degree murder, armed robbery and illegal use of weapons, but also aggravated battery, aggravated assault with a firearm and possession of an illegal firearm by a convicted felon.
Vernell and Roach, formerly of Baton Rouge and Prairieville, respectively, each pleaded guilty in October to aggravated battery of Moore. Vernell also pleaded guilty to simple battery of Eames outside the store. Roach pleaded guilty to simple battery of Carter.
Erwin sentenced Vernell and Roach to credit for time served on the aggravated battery charge. He gave Vernell and Roach suspended six-month prison terms on their simple battery charges and put them on probation for two years.
Both men now live in Atlanta.