Sheila A. McGough, having worked hard to earn a law degree and set up practice in the heart of Old Town Alexandria, risked it all for a con man -- and lost.
McGough, 50, who prosecutors said became "too close" to a man she was appointed to defend, was convicted in federal court in Alexandria yesterday of helping him to sell fraudulent insurance companies and lying to federal judges in hopes of securing her client's release from prison.
"Evidence before you shows that this was never simply an attorney-client relationship," Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark J. Hulkower told the jury in his closing remarks. "Whatever was there, whatever existed between Bob Bailes and Sheila McGough, led her to risk it all."
McGough, a 1982 graduate of George Mason University Law School, was convicted of 14 criminal charges, including conspiracy, wire fraud, obstruction of justice and witness intimidation. She faces a possible prison sentence of 86 years.
Gary Coleman, McGough's attorney, said in his closing arguments that local prosecutors and judges resented McGough because she fought so tenaciously for her clients that she sometimes became a pest.
Coleman told jurors that they might believe McGough was "a flake" or "a zealot." "She may have driven judges crazy, but Miss McGough did what she believed was right" for her clients, Coleman said.
McGough, who one witness said has lived with her parents in Alexandria for most of her life, spent much of the past four years representing Bailes, according to testimony. Bailes, 52, described by one witness as able to "charm the skin off a snake," is serving a 25-year sentence in a Texas prison on federal fraud charges and has convictions dating from the early 1970s.
Evidence in the seven-day trial showed that McGough met Bailes in 1986, when she was appointed to defend him in a local criminal case. It was not long before she gave Bailes the run of her office, though she knew that he had a long criminal history and that he was using the office to sell phony insurance charters through advertisements in the Wall Street Journal, according to testimony.
Witnesses recalled that McGough took increasing interest in her personal appearance when Bailes was around and that Bailes used to send her numerous bouquets of roses addressed to "Agnes Thunderbird."
Several witnesses, including four federal judges, described how McGough filed sham bankruptcy petitions on Bailes's behalf after he was imprisoned in a federal bank fraud case.
McGough, arguing that Bailes's presence was needed to resolve creditors' claims, tried to persuade a succession of judges to transfer Bailes from a federal prison in Pennsylvania to a Washington area halfway house where he would be released to her custody during the day.
U.S. District Judge James C. Turk of Roanoke told the jury he warned McGough that Bailes had come before him many times and could not be trusted.
"I kept cautioning her about the fact that Mr. Bailes would manipulate people and that she should be careful," said Turk, adding that he refused to grant Bailes the transfer.
U.S. District Judge Stanley S. Harris from the District of Columbia said McGough "deceived" him when she asked him to grant a transfer knowing that another judge in the same court had refused such a request.
Harris said that when he confronted McGough about the incident, "she said if she had to do it over again she would have informed me, but that she hadn't wanted to take the time to do it."
U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. set sentencing for Jan. 18.