Armstrong jury asks question, takes weekend off

From the News-Sentinel’s Jamie Satterfield:
After just more than an hour of deliberations Friday, a federal jury pondering the fate of state Rep. Joe Armstrong on tax fraud charges had a question and a request.

The eight-woman, four-man jury wanted to know what Tennessee law says about the “culpability of a citizen using a paid preparer,” and they wanted a calculator.

Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips refused to answer the question, telling jurors “all the relevant law involved in this case has been provided to you,” and denied the calculator request.

With that, the jury opted to go home for the weekend. Deliberations resume Monday.

The question puzzled both sides since Armstrong is charged with violating federal law, not state statutes. But the query was in step with Armstrong’s defense that he relied upon the advice of his longtime accountant, Charles Stivers, to handle the taxes on a windfall the veteran lawmaker made on a 2007 sin tax hike.

Armstrong has been standing trial this week on charges he conspired with Stivers to hide from the IRS — and the voting public — his profiteering from a cigarette tax stamp hike that his vote helped pass. He is also charged with tax evasion and filing a false tax return.

The line of demarcation between prosecutors Charles Atchley Jr. and Frank Dale and defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs is simple — either Stivers, a confessed liar and thief, told the truth when he said Armstrong told him to launder the $321,000 through Stivers’ company to hide its source or Armstrong is a victim of Stivers, who lied to the lawmaker and stole the money meant to go toward Armstrong’s taxes.