A Federal Court jury took less than an hour on Friday afternoon to find state Sen. Jerry Cooper not guilty of bank fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy.
The charges grew out of Sen. Cooper’s sale of a lumber mill in 1999 to Alabama businessman Tony Auyer and his wife, Teresa.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Humble told jurors that Cooper, who was deep in debt, used his political connections to push through what everybody now agrees was a bad loan.
But defense attorney Jerry Summers, representing Cooper, said his client was targeted because he is in politics.
Both attorneys agreed that the case centered on an appraisal which falsely indicated the presence of a rail spur on the property in question. Auyer planned to make railroad ties at the site, and the rail spur would have greatly reduced the cost of getting his product to market.
Sen. Cooper had applied for a state grant to fund construction of the rail spur, but it was never built.
But his attorney said there was no way that loan officers from the bank that approved the loan – who actually visited the property – did not know that there was no rail spur there.
“You’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to know the rail spur wasn’t there,” he told jurors during closing arguments.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Humble said the central issue in the case is what happened to the money that was allegedly fraudulently obtained.
“The money’s gone, and it was last seen with Jerry Cooper,” he argued.
The trial before Judge Curtis Collier lasted a week.
The McMinnville appraiser who listed there was a rail spur, James Passons, was tried earlier and was also found not guilty.
Democratic Caucus Chairman Senator Joe Haynes said, “We’re thrilled by this news but not surprised. We had full faith in Sen. Cooper all along. Now we look forward to having him back in Nashville to do the work of the Senate.”