U.S. District Judge Robert F. Collins of New Orleans was indicted yesterday on charges he fixed a drug case for a share of a $100,000 bribe.
Federal authorities said they began a sting operation targeting the 60-year-old judge after a drug offender alleged that an associate of Collins promised him a favorable sentence in return for money.
Collins, appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, is the fifth sitting federal judge to be indicted in the past decade. Collins declared his innocence in a statement read by his lawyer, calling the charges "nothing more than a blatant attempt by a twice-convicted dope dealer, aided and abetted by government agents, to set up a black federal judge."
Federal authorities said a man who had pleaded guilty to marijuana smuggling told them an associate of Collins had promised him Collins would give "favorable consideration" to his case in exchange for money.
The informant agreed to tape-record his conversations with the associate, John H. Ross, a member of the New Orleans levee board, authorities said. The indictment said the informant used Ross to get the money to Collins.
According to the indictment, Collins agreed to have the case transferred from another judge and sentenced the offender to 42 months, although the probation office recommended an eight-year sentence.
Federal authorities said they recovered $16,500 in bribe money from Collins's wallet and from a locked compartment behind the judge's desk in his chambers.
Collins and Ross were both charged with conspiracy, bribery and obstruction of justice. If convicted, Collins faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.
The other federal judges indicted on corruption charges in recent years were Alcee Hastings from Florida, Harry Claiborne from Nevada, Walter Nixon from Mississippi and Robert Aguilar from California.
All were convicted except Hastings, who was impeached and removed from the bench for his activities despite his acquittal.