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Jury says lawyer extorted a client

A federal jury has found a North Florida defense attorney guilty of extorting cash from a Lake City game room operator, but acquitted him of conspiring with that area’s former state attorney.

Dixie County lawyer Marion Michael O’Steen was indicted last year along with Jeff Siegmeister , who until 2019 was the elected prosecutor in the state’s seven-county 3rd Judicial Circuit . Siegmeister took a plea deal in February and admitted to two counts of conspiracy with O’Steen to give his clients lighter treatment in return for bribes, as well as two separate crimes involving Siegmeister alone.

But after prosecutors spent days presenting evidence last week, jurors in Jacksonville found O’Steen not guilty of two counts of conspiracy, but guilty of extorting money from Andy Tong, a federal informant who Siegmeister had charged with running his game room as an illegal gambling house.

'The reason why we’re here is because he decided to extort Andy Tong,' Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Karase told jurors during the trial, calling Tong 'the perfect guy to prey upon.'

Tong paid O’Steen $60,000, in two installments, to get a case involving him and two business partners resolved through a pre-trial intervention. In the arrangement, Siegmeister’s office would defer, and later drop, the case without a trial or a finding of guilt, but would keep property police seized from the game room.

Tong, who jurors were told had previously dealt with law enforcement agents, told a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent about the arrangement and agreed in 2018 to have the FBI covertly record his conversations with O’Steen. In a recording played for the jury, however, O’Steen flatly denied a suggestion by Tong that the money would be used for a payoff, saying it was simply a bill for his work.

'It’s not a bribe at all,' O’Steen said. 'It’s not like you’re thinking.'

The State Attorney’s Office formally dismissed charges against Tong in 2020, and in December he filed a federal lawsuit against O’Steen and Siegmeister, claiming the men conspired together and violated his constitutional rights. Prosecutors in O’Steen’s trial also presented evidence involving other cases with O’Steen’s clients, but those were for one of the conspiracy charges that jurors rejected.

In addition to extortion, jurors also found O’Steen guilty of not filing a report the U.S. Treasury Department requires when someone receives more than $10,000 in cash. U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard scheduled O’Steen’s sentencing for Oct. 12.

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