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Debate claim becomes subject of dispute
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A file that didn’t exist on Thursday, existed Friday after claims were made during the district attorney debate that District Attorney General Lisa Zavogiannis had allowed a man her opponent called the “Country Club Drug Dealer” to have his criminal record erased.
“I knew what he was saying was wrong all along,” Zavogiannis said when she revealed the file detailing the charges and conviction against Johnny Miller, now 56, was safe and sound where it had always been in the Circuit Court Clerk’s safe. “That’s why I was getting so mad when he said Mr. Miller was granted a judicial diversion and expungement. I knew what he was saying wasn’t the truth.”
The issue arose during the Southern Standard’s district attorney debate between the incumbent Zavogiannis and opponent Tim Pirtle. As part of his opening statement, Pirtle questioned why Zavogiannis granted a diversion to Miller, who lived in a posh home at Golf Villa near the Country Club, after he was caught with nearly 50 pounds of marijuana in 2009.
Miller was busted along with Enrique Valdez and Joseph Wiley after lawmen discovered the large amount of marijuana in a shipment Valdez had mailed to himself at a Manchester motel. Valdez reportedly told lawmen Miller had ordered the shipment and it was to be transported to his home near the Country Club. Officers arrested Miller and found more drugs and money inside his home.
It was while Miller was waiting for trial on the felony marijuana charges that he was involved in a drunken crash. Lawmen charged him with DUI and possession of drugs after marijuana was found in his possession. His bond was not revoked and he was allowed to stay out on bail.
He was eventually placed on probation for two years and didn’t have to spend any time in jail. It was the lack of jail time that drew Pirtle’s ire.
However, along with noting he served no time, Pirtle claimed a judicial diversion was granted. A diversion works like probation but allows the defendant to have his criminal record erased at the end of the period if there is no more trouble. Court records show Miller was not given a diversion, although his co-defendant Wiley was granted one and his criminal record was erased. An expungement means the person’s name is erased from every piece of paperwork and computer file regarding the case for which they are granted the diversion. Judicial diversions are available to persons with no prior criminal record.
While Pirtle’s statement was incorrect when he said Miller had his record erased, Pirtle said he did his due diligence in researching Miller’s background and still stands behind his original statement that Zavogiannis was soft on Miller given the scope of his drug dealing.
“The day before the debate, my partner, Mary Little Pirtle, requested the clerk of the court to search its records for the drug case against Johnny Miller,” Pirtle said of what prompted his belief a diversion had been granted. “The clerk reported that no case against Johnny Miller showed in their computer index or files except a General Sessions case. Mary asked about any order of expungement.  The clerk reported that another clerk in the office kept the expungement orders in her desk for a limited time, then the orders were discarded.”
After Zavogiannis reported the Miller file was there, Pirtle again checked with the clerk and learned there was not one but two Miller files there, one for his original big drug bust and the other for his subsequent drunk driving wreck.
“I was surprised to learn there was not only one but two Circuit Court criminal files against Johnny Miller,” Pirtle said, noting that while there was no expungement as he first thought, the plea agreement was still way too lenient. “After he had been busted with 44 pounds of pot and nearly $60,000, he posted a $100,000 bond. He was arrested a few months after the drug charges for DUI, possession of marijuana, violation of the implied consent law and resisting arrest. No action was taken by the district attorney, according to the file materials, to revoke his bond. He was allowed to plead to 24 months of straight probation and given a waiver of his community service. Firearms seized from him in the drug raid were returned to his sister. I stand by my argument that serious drug dealers should not be given such lenient treatment.”
Zavogiannis maintains she did as the law directs given Miller’s absence of a prior record.
She also pointed out the judge had to sign off on the plea agreement which would have been struck down had it not been in line with the law.