CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to dismiss all felony charges against a member of the Pagans Motorcycle Club from Florida after a key government witness said he was innocent.
Last month, James R. "Pagan Ronnie" Howerton -- who began working as a confidential informant for the FBI in 2004 -- e-mailed Martin Craig Nuss' defense attorney and said he was surprised that Nuss had pleaded guilty to interstate travel in aid of racketeering.
Nuss, 44, the Orlando, Fla., chapter president of the Pagans, admitted in July that he traveled from Florida in April 2008 to deliver his chapter's proceeds from a an annual motorcycle raffle to Pagans national vice president Floyd B. Moore in St. Albans.
"The reason that I know Martin didn't think that it was an illegal lottery is because he and I had several conversations about it every year that he participated and I pointed out to him that not only had I been told by Floyd Moore a.k.a. Jesse 13 that it was totally legal but I gave Martin and others the example of the different organizations that did the same thing," Howerton wrote.
Charleston attorney Nick Preservati, who represents Nuss, said Friday that he was shocked to receive Howerton's e-mail, which essentially cleared Nuss.
"To have the confidential informant for five years -- who the case was built around -- tell you in writing that your client is innocent is every defense lawyer's dream," he said.
Having a paid government agent admit that he encouraged Nuss, whose biker nickname is "Martin One Percent," to participate in the lottery after assuring him that it was legal gave Nuss a strong entrapment defense, he said.
"[Nuss] and I had more than one hour-long conversation about [the raffle] and he didn't like being forced to sell tickets that were bogus," Howerton wrote in a subsequent e-mail. "That is why he bought most of the tickets himself."
In another e-mail, Howerton, who at the time was Moore's personal sergeant-at-arms, making him the third highest ranking member of the Pagans, wrote that Nuss had no intention of committing any crime when he participated in a Pagans event in Richmond, Va., in 2006.
"I personally informed Martin of the event and that Jesse 13 [Moore] wanted him to bring fellow Orlando Pagan Tom," Howerton wrote, referring to an otherwise unidentified biker. "Martin also brought along Tina, his girlfriend then, wife now."
Preservati forwarded the e-mails to federal prosecutors, who subsequently offered Nuss the same deal they cut with 17 other out-of-state defendants who allegedly transported raffle proceeds to West Virginia: In exchange for pleading guilty to a gambling misdemeanor in Kanawha County Magistrate Court and paying a $5 fine, all federal charges would be dismissed.
Nuss entered his plea in state Magistrate Court on Thursday, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Loew filed a motion to dismiss all six federal felony charges against him the following day.
As described in the U.S. Attorney's Manual, the government's "petit policy," which indicates that federal prosecutors generally don't charge defendants who have already been prosecuted for the same conduct in state court, Nuss' state plea appears to preclude further federal prosecution.
U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnston has not signed off on the deal, so it is still pending, Preservati said, adding that he did not think that government acted in bad faith.