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White-Collar Crime

Paralegal Guilty in Fake-Libel-Suit Scam That Briefly Won $3M

Posted Aug 24, 2009 2:00 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A credulous paralegal is facing a potential two-and-a-half-year federal prison term after apparently being duped by a convicted child molester into participating in a bizarre alleged civil litigation scheme. Its claimed purpose was to "coerce or fool" the now-adult victim of the molestation into recanting, via a faked defamation suit that briefly resulted in a $3 million judgment.

It all began with an Ohio child-molestation conviction against David Copeland-Jackson, who is now 36, reports the Washington Post. While serving his sentence, he befriended paralegal Peter Brandel, 71, who reportedly believed that Copeland-Jackson had been falsely accused.

Several years after his 2003 release from prison for the 1999 crime, Copeland-Jackson allegedly contacted Brandel. The two then allegedly began implementing a bizarre litigation scheme that Assistant U.S. Attorney James Mitzelfeld describes in a court filing as an attempt to "coerce or fool" the child-molestation victim, now 24, into recanting.

Representing himself pro se, Copeland-Jackson allegedly filed perjured and forged court papers in federal court in the District of Columbia. They declared that the victim, Joseph Cutlip, had been served with a libel complaint claiming that Cutlip had defamed Copeland-Jackson by baselessly accusing him of homosexual conduct. Plus, the filings included a purported written recantation signed by Cutlip, according to the prosecution.

In fact, Cutlip, who agreed to be identified by the Post, says he knew nothing about the suit until he was notified that the federal judge hearing the case granted Copeland-Jackson a $3 million "defamation" judgment in 2007. He contacted local prosecutors in Ohio, they contacted U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle, and she quickly vacated the $3 million judgment, the newspaper reports.

Brandel, who reportedly signed affidavits falsely claiming that he had served Cutlip and and that Cutlip had told him he was "sorry for lying" about Copeland-Jackson, pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Friday. Sentencing guidelines call for a two-and-a-half-year prison term when he is sentenced in November, the Post reports.

Copeland-Jackson was indicted last month on charges of conspiring to commit perjury and obstruct justice. He has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer says he is contrite.

At one point, the judge questioned whether there was jurisdiction to hear the defamation case in D.C. So, Copeland-Jackson, who had legally changed his name to Xavier Justice, allegedly filed a report by a "private investigator"—Justice—that Cutlip had lived in the district and had family there, the Post recounts.

Huvelle declines to comment, the newspaper notes. But at a 2007 hearing, after she referred the matter to federal authorities, she stated, "I regret to say I was not astute enough to stop this."

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