Ex-city attorney gets 38 months

Thomson, formerassistant learn fate

Posted: September 27, 2011

The Winchester Star

Ex-Winchester Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Thomson arrives, along with sons Sam, Gus and Jim, at federal court in Harrisonburg Monday to face sentencing for evidence-tampering and a drug conviction. He will serve 38 months in prison. (Photo by Joel Danoy)
Jim Thomson (from left) opens the door for his father, former Winchester Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Thomson, as other family members, sons Sam and Gus and wife, Anna, enter U.S. District Court on Monday in Harrisonburg. (Photo by Joel Danoy)

HARRISONBURG- A federal judge sentenced former Winchester Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Hampton Thomson on Monday to more than three years in prison for evidence-tampering and drug possession.

Judge James P. Jones - during a separate hearing, also held in U.S. District Court - sentenced Thomson's former legal assistant, Nannette Susan Boden, 36, to three years of supervised probation for her involvement with Thomson during the alleged crimes.

Thomson, 56, of Winchester, pleaded guilty to four felony counts related to altering phone records, deleting text messages and directing an inmate to lie to investigators. He also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor cocaine possession charge.

Thomson, who was wearing a suit and tie and carrying his iconic brown leather briefcase, appeared with his wife and three sons and a family friend.

"Over the years I have stood by hundreds of Virginians and others as their lawyer in court," Thomson said, reading from a prepared statement. "My clients were in the same position I am today. And so I feel that I am not so special that I should not stand before all of you and the court in the same manner as my clients and accept, with a humble heart, punishment. It is the only brave thing to do."

A jury trial on June 27 was canceled when Thomson and his attorneys, J. Benjamin Dick and John P. Flannery II, reached a last-minute plea agreement with prosecutors the day before it was to begin.

Thomson was disbarred on Aug. 22 by the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board.

Thomson told the court that for years he has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from "the nagging chronic sadness" caused by the death of his infant son.

These feelings, he said, were compounded by "other drastic tragedies," such as his prosecution of the capital murder case of Edward Nathaniel Bell, who was executed after being convicted of the October 1999 murder of Winchester Police Sgt. Ricky Timbrook.

"I dealt with many other horrible cases both [as] a prosecutor and defense lawyer," he said. "I was never a callous or insensitive person, and the position of a lawyer in the criminal courts exposes one to thousands of tragic circumstances. I did not see until recently how the circumstances I endured for 27 years fed my post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction that resulted in my hospitalization last Thanksgiving."

Dr. Glenn Paule-Carres, a clinical psychologist who evaluated Thomson after his arrest, stated in a letter submitted to the court on Friday that Thomson began engaging in "'emotional escape' drinking that became problematic."

The doctor - noting that Thomson is still in "the early stage of full remission" - recommended to the court that he be allowed to participate in a substance abuse program while in prison.

"He stopped drinking but turned to other substances as an escape which led to his 'breakdown,'" Paule-Carres states.

He said that Thomson "by self report, wife's corroboration and negative urine analyses" has remained drug and alcohol free since his arrest.

Prior to his arrest, alcohol abuse would develop into drug abuse - particularly cocaine use - Thomson told the court.

His escalating substance-abuse problems boiled over after he became counsel for Oscar Salvatierra-Jovel - an alleged cocaine dealer arrested by the Northwestern Regional Drug Task Force in August 2010, Thomson said.

Salvatierra-Jovel, 37, told federal investigators following his arrest that Thomson and Boden had bought cocaine from him several times.

Once his client was arrested, Thomson allegedly tried repeatedly to alter phone records and convince Salvatierra-Jovel and others to lie about their "drug relationship" with him.

Those alleged actions are the basis of the federal charges Thomson pled guilty to in his agreement.

"I should not have represented Mr. Jovel due to his illegal activities involving people that I knew and through them, myself," he said. "He solicited my representation as a lawyer and skillfully elicited statements from me that I should not have made concerning my assistant. If I had not been so horribly ill at the time, I trust I would have been able to walk away from Mr. Jovel's case."

In May, Salvatierra-Jovel entered guilty pleas to one felony count of conspiring to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine and four counts of distributing cocaine. On Sept. 9, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison - having served 13 of those months while waiting for his case to be resolved.

Three character witnesses were called by Thomson attorney Dick during the hearing.

Clarke County Commonwealth's Attorney Suzanne "Suni" Perka called Thomson "an excellent prosecutor and very effective defense attorney." Hired by Thomson in 1996 as an assistant city prosecutor, Perka said his drug addiction was a "shock."

Family friend Lauri Bridgeforth told the court, "I feel like he is on a very positive road."

Thomson's son Gus spoke for himself and his two brothers, saying, "I think he is doing very good," telling the court that he, too, wants to be a lawyer.

In a supplement report submitted to the court on Friday, Thomson attorney Dick states that Thomson and his wife Anna are unemployed and have lost all their real estate investments "by way of foreclosure and defaults to creditors," which ruined the couple's "financial security."

Dick also expressed Thomson's concerns about being "placed in an appropriate penal facility," citing fears that he may encounter inmates that he was responsible for convicting during 16 years as a prosecutor.

"[T]his is a real concern of defense counsel as Mr. Thomson has been subject to threats and false allegations due to his career in law and law enforcement," the report states.

Jones accepted the request and allowed Thomson to report on his own when the Federal Bureau of Prisons identifies a facility that provides security from inmates and has a substance-abuse program.

He sentenced Thomson in accordance with his plea agreement to three years and two months for each of the four tampering charges. Jones also ordered him to serve one year in prison for the drug possession. The terms will run concurrently.

He also imposed a fine of $7,500 and ordered Thomson to serve two years of supervised probation upon his release from prison.

After the hearing, Dick said that he expects Thomson to report to a designated prison "pretty soon."

Thomson told the court that he hopes to use his experience to help people who also struggle with addiction.

"Many of us are victims of drug dealers," he said, "but I hope to help as many people as I can as my strength returns to address the chronic disease of the human brain called addiction so they can effectively resist the purchase and use of these poisons."

For Boden, a sentence of probation was a reflection of her willingness to cooperate with federal prosecutors following her arrest in January.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Grayson Hoffman told the court that Boden also assisted in a different federal drug case. He submitted a motion to the court Friday requesting that Boden's sentence be drastically reduced due to her "immediate cooperation."

Jones, before sentencing Boden, said he believed that she has "suffered tremendous collateral effects" after her arrest, particularly from attacks against her character, reputation and family and friends.

"These attacks made it on the cover of many newspapers ... including the newspaper of her hometown," he said.

Thomson's defense team tried unsuccessfully to have evidence presented by Boden's attorneys against Thomson removed on the grounds that she was a habitual liar - asserting that she lied during her grand jury testimony.

A federal judge also denied a motion ordering a psychological exam for Boden, who the defense claims once spent weeks pretending to friends, family and co-workers that she had a brain tumor, even shaving her head and cutting herself to simulate surgical scarring.

Boden - who appeared with family members and friends - told the court that her bad decisions stemmed from a prescription drug abuse problem. She said that since her arrest, she has completed two three-month drug programs.

Boden was a social worker before taking a position at Thomson's law firm with aspirations of becoming a lawyer herself.

"I feel this is a life-changing experience," she said with tears in her eyes. "I wanted to make a difference in the community. I feel I did that during my 12 years as a social worker. However, poor decisions I made over the past year, I definitely didn't do that."

Boden told the court she hopes to become more integrated into her mother's court reporting business when the elder Boden retires.

Her attorney, Kent Bowers, said Boden "paid a dear price for the apprenticeship" at Thomson's office.

Boden told the court prior to being sentenced that she is "very sorry and completely takes responsibility for this."

Jones ordered Boden to enter a substance-abuse program and enter into mental health treatment during her time on probation.

"I hope and trust she will learn the difficult lessons of this case," he said.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Boden immediately left the courtroom - opting not to stay for Thomson's sentencing hearing.

- Contact Joel Danoy at
jdanoy@winchesterstar.com