NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Capitol Hill Corruption
Cooper Surrenders on Federal Bank Fraud Charges
(Story created: 8/30/06)
He's accused of using his political connections to line his own pockets. Powerful state Sen. Jerry Cooper surrendered to authorities Tuesday, one week after his indictment over a questionable land deal first exposed by a NewsChannel 5 investigation.
When Jerry Cooper faced a federal judge inside the U.S. Courthouse, he stood straight and tall as he entered his plea -- "not guilty" -- to charges of bank fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy.
Outside the courthouse, Cooper had little to say about the federal charges that he now faces.
Inside, the Warren County Democrat heard his case called by its foreboding title, United States of America versus Jerry Wayne Cooper.
At the center of the investigation: a sawmill that Cooper could not sell.
Then, as our NewsChannel 5 investigation first discovered, he pulled some strings and got state officials to approve a state grant to connect his land to some nearby rail lines.
Before today's hearing, Cooper resigned his position as chairman of the Senate's influential Commerce Committee.
His lawyer acknowledged that, to some people, what the senator did may have crossed a line.
"Hopefully, as the case goes along the public will understand the fact that, were there mistakes made in this situation? I think that there were," said Cooper's defense lawyer Jerry Summers.
"Were they made by Senator Cooper? Maybe yes. Were they made by other people? Absolutely. But whether it constitutes a criminal violation, that's the issue today."
The charges focus on a specific part of that land deal -- Cooper's use of an appraisal that prosecutors said was bogus.
Even if some think that what the senator did was unethical, a jury will have to decide if it was illegal.
Cooper's trial is scheduled for November 6, but his attorneys said that could change.