A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday affirmed the convictions of former Jacksonville Port Authority Chairman Tony Nelson on 36 corruption-related charges, including bribery, money laundering, honest services mail fraud, and making a false statement to the FBI.
The evidence at trial established that, as chairman, Nelson had demanded and accepted $143,500 in bribes from a dredging contractor at JaxPort. Nelson is serving a 40-month prison sentence.
Nelson argued on appeal that his convictions should be vacated because the federal fraud and bribery statutes under which he was convicted are unconstitutionally vague, the district court improperly instructed the jury on the applicable law, and the court improperly admitted the testimony of JaxPort's director of procurement. The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Florida Inc. and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers also filed a brief on Nelson's behalf as amicus curiae.
After hearing oral argument, the court of appeals issued a split decision, with the majority holding that the challenged statutes "gave Nelson adequate notice of the conduct they prohibit," that the district court's instructions correctly "propelled (the jury) to look to Nelson's state of mind" in taking payments in exchange for his influence, and that the challenged evidence was relevant and not unfairly prejudicial.