Tuesday, December 21, 2010

TOP STORY > >Thompson is looking at life term

Special to The Leader

George Wylie Thompson of Cabot will remain in federal custody and Sam Baggett resigned his seat on the North Little Rock City Council in the wake of their convictions Friday on federal firearms charges.

A jury deliberated about five hours before returning at 8:40 p.m. Friday with guilty verdicts on all eight charges against Thompson and on three of the six counts against Baggett.

The trial opened Dec. 7 in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson.

Thompson and Baggett will be sentenced May 17 after prosecutors complete pre-sentencing reports. Thompson is set for sentencing at 10 a.m., with Baggett to follow at 1:30 p.m.

Thompson, 65, has been in federal custody since his arrest in 2009 in Bangkok, Thailand. Deemed a flight risk by the government, he will remain in federal custody. Among the charges he was convicted of last week: being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, possession of unregistered silencers, operating an illegal gambling business, and aiding and abetting marriage fraud.

The total maximum penalty for those convictions normally is 45 years in prison and fines of up to $1.5 million, but Thompson – because of three prior felony convictions -- faces life in prison.

Baggett, 58, was convicted of conspiracy to dispose of ammunition to a felon, making false statements to federal agents and aiding and abetting a felon in the possession of a firearm. He faces total maximum penalties of 20 years in prison and $750,000 in fines. Baggett, who was elected to the council in 2008, is free on bond.

Both will be sentenced after prosecutors complete probation reports.

John Wesley Hall of Little Rock, Baggett’s attorney, said he had encouraged Baggett to resign from the North Little Rock City Council. Hall also said he will appeal the verdict.

If Baggett had not resigned, the council could have voted him off and set a date for a special election to fill the vacancy. Or, a North Little Rock resident could have signed to petition a judge for Baggett’s removal.

The council’s next meeting is Dec. 27.

Thompson was convicted in 1989 and 2003 on drug charges and has served time for those convictions.

Last October, he was convicted in federal court in Little Rock on another drug charge. He faces another federal trial in Little Rock sometime next year on charges that he conspired with former North Little Rock Alderman Cary Gaines to rig bids on city contracts. Gaines pleaded guilty to that scheme two weeks ago and testified against Thompson and Baggett last week. He has yet to be sentenced.

Federal agents began investigating Thompson in 2007 for illegal bookmaking operations. That investigation spread to drug trafficking, federal firearms violations, and public corruption after agents obtained a court order to tap Thompson’s cell phone and record those calls.

Federal authorities in Boston, Mass., contend that Thompson has ties with the Columbo crime syndicate in New York, and charges against Thompson are pending there.