It’s not the crime but the coverup, as the famous phrase goes. But nobody seems to pay the warning much heed.
According to federal prosecutors, it didn’t stop Nashville Judge Casey Moreland, either. He is now ex-Nashville judge Casey Moreland, in jail awaiting trial on charges of obstruction of justice and embezzlement, all connected with his alleged efforts to cover up a sex scandal that threatened to bring him down.
The problems for Moreland started last year when Natalie Amos publicly alleged that Moreland helped her wipe away debt she owed from court fines and traffic-ticket fees — then pursued a sexual relationship with her.
One night, according to the indictment, he personally called off a police officer who had pulled her over. “Just used my superpowers!!” he reportedly responded by text when she thanked him. “My desk still has butt marks on it!!”
On another occasion, he reportedly texted her: “Your fees; fines and court cost are taken care of! You now officially owe me ! ! Haha.”
The scandal first exploded in Nashville in late January and February 2017, after Amos told local news station WSMV about her alleged sexual relationship with the judge and the favors he did for her in the court system. She wasn’t the only one, she said.
Her friend Leigh Terry, who had committed suicide the previous year, had done something similar with the judge, Amos claimed. In fact, it was the investigation into Terry’s suicide that first revealed Moreland’s alleged sexual misconduct: In the police report of the suicide — made public last January and reported on by the Nashville Scene — witnesses told police that Terry had claimed that she slept with Moreland for favorable treatment in a DUI case, a factor police have not said was directly related to her suicide.
Within days of the report being made public, local media began digging into the story further, and WSMV interviewed Amos on camera.
Amos described and provided text messages to WSMV related to at least two incidents between November 2015 and June 2016 in which she claimed Moreland intervened to make her traffic tickets or license woes disappear, followed by sexual conversations or sex in his office.
Last week, federal prosecutors in Nashville unveiled a 25-page indictment, detailing the plot they allege he concocted to cover up the sexual favors as the FBI started investigating them.
Moreland now faces five counts of obstruction of justice, two counts of theft from a federally funded program and two counts related to witness tampering by corrupt persuasion and destruction of evidence. He was indicted on the first five obstruction charges last April, and after the latest round of charges, is now being held without bail in a Kentucky detention center.
His attorneys did not respond to a request for comment, but Moreland denied any inappropriate relationship with Amos and Terry in a statement he released to the Nashville Scene last year.
“At no time did I intervene on their behalf during or after judgments were rendered by the appropriate courts,” Moreland said.
He resigned from the bench on March 31, 2017.
Before he did, he went to great lengths to cover up his activities, prosecutors say. One month after the FBI first attempted to interview Moreland, he set up a meeting with a friend of his identified in court documents only as “J.P.” According to the indictment, he told J.P. that he was under investigation, and could lose his job and face criminal charges as a result. He needed J.P.’s help to get Amos to sign an affidavit, saying she made everything up.
Amos is not identified by name in the indictment. But local media outlets have reported that she is the unnamed woman in the charges, and the indictment quotes from the original news accounts naming her, including her statements made on television.
The judge also needed J.P.’s help planting drugs on Amos, so that she would be pulled over and arrested, destroying her credibility as a witness against him, prosecutors allege.
The affidavit Moreland allegedly drew up wanted Amos to say that she was “tricked” into giving the interview to WSMV and that a reporter paid her $2,500 for it; that she and Moreland never had sex in his office; and that Amos only “jokingly [sat] on [Moreland’s desk] and left a butt print, thus the origin of the text message,” according to the indictment.
He also wanted her to say that some of the other texts were the result of a “spoof” app on her phone and were not real texts, among other things.
Asking J.P. to give the affidavit to her, Moreland then instructed him to get Amos “liquored up real good before you bring [the affidavit] up,” prosecutors allege.
He gave J.P. more than $6,000 as bribe money for Amos, some of which Moreland said J.P. could keep for himself and one other person assisting him. “This right here gets me out of trouble,” prosecutors said he told J.P. as he gave him the affidavit for Amos to sign.
The alleged source of the hush money was problematic, too.
It was money that Moreland, with the help of a staffer, had allegedly been pocketing from defendants who paid between $500 and $750 to join the county’s Drug Treatment Court program, over which Moreland presided.
The affidavit would never make it to Amos. As it turns out, J.P. was reporting directly to the FBI.
Moreland was first taken into custody last April for the five obstruction charges and released on bond. After the FBI learned the source of the money, he was rearrested on March 1, after the FBI lodged the additional embezzlement complaint. Last week, a judge ordered Moreland detained until his trial in June, since he was charged with more crimes while on bond.
At the hearing, the court played recordings of Moreland pressuring the drug court staffer, who is accused of also pocketing money from defendants, to lie to a grand jury about the allegedly embezzled money. Eventually, prosecutors say, she and Moreland destroyed the records detailing how many defendants had joined the program and how much they paid.
Moreland appeared to believe, according to the recordings released by WSMV, that the court staffer was at that point the only one who knew.
“If this comes out,” the staffer told him, “my life will be ruined.”
“There’s no way it’ll come out unless you say something,” Moreland said.
As it turns out, the staffer was wearing a wire, too.
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