Law360 (April 7, 2021, 6:34 PM EDT) -- A former Houston attorney convicted of being involved in an $18 million tax scheme must serve the remainder of his two-year sentence in federal prison despite concerns he raised over COVID-19, a Southern District of Texas judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes denied Jack Stephen Pursley's motion to serve the remaining 18 months of his sentence at home, finding Pursley gave no "extraordinary or compelling reason" to grant his sentence reduction motion.
Pursley asked the court last month to let him out of prison, citing a health condition and various ailments as a reason to grant home confinement. Prosecutors had urged the court to deny Pursley's request, saying he made it without disclosing to the court that he was already fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
"Jack Stephen Pursley was convicted of the crime charged and he received a light sentence from this court," Judge Hughes wrote in his one-paragraph order. "He insists exposure to COVID-19 that we all suffer is unique to him. He has given no extraordinary or compelling reason why his current circumstances warrant immediate release or home confinement."
Pursley was convicted in September 2019 of three counts of tax evasion and one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. for his participation in the $18 million tax scheme. He was caught while working with a former client to repatriate their untaxed earnings from Southeastern Shipping, a company providing workers to offshore oil rigs primarily based in the Middle East.
According to prosecutors, those funds were transferred from the company's account in the Isle of Man to the U.S. and fraudulently labeled stock purchases.
In August, Pursley was sentenced to two years in prison, a significantly lighter sentence than the 10 to 15 years prosecutors asked for during his trial. They argued that Pursley did not acknowledge his wrongdoings or show remorse.
During trial, Pursley filed a motion for acquittal, a motion to dismiss and a motion to sanction the government, all of which Judge Hughes denied. He also filed a motion for a retrial in October, which was also dismissed.
Pursley asked the court in March to let him out after the prison warden rejected his request. In the filing, he cited a year-old memo from then-U.S. Attorney General William Barr allowing prisons to release nonviolent low-risk inmates "who might be safer serving their sentences in home confinement rather than in [Federal Bureau of Prisons] facilities."
"After six months of confinement, the loss of his practice and facing imminent grave illness or death while in custody, Mr. Pursley is prepared to walk humbly in this world," the motion said.
Prosecutors urged Judge Hughes not to grant early release and home confinement, noting that Pursley made the same arguments he did at his sentencing that a variety of ailments put him at greater risk during the pandemic.
"Even if the court accepts that Pursley's health conditions could have subjected him to an increased risk of serious harm from COVID-19 compared to the population in general, Pursley is now fully vaccinated against the virus," the prosecutors said.
The government is represented by Grace Ethel Albinson, Sean Patrick Beaty, Jack Allen Morgan and Nanette Louise Davis of the U.S. Department of Justice's Tax Division.
Pursley is represented by Chip Lewis of Chip B. Lewis Law Office.
The case is U.S. v. Jack Stephen Pursley, case number 4:18-cr-00575, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
--Additional reporting by J. Edward Moreno and Dave Simpson. Editing by Kelly Duncan.
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