Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Union Leader to Serve 6 Months in Jail; Judge Had Considered a Harsher Sentence for Longshoreman's Association's Local President

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Union Leader to Serve 6 Months in Jail; Judge Had Considered a Harsher Sentence for Longshoreman's Association's Local President

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM, The Times-Union

The president of the Jacksonville longshoremen's union was sentenced to six months in jail Friday for witness tampering in a case the judge said subverted justice and could have set the union back decades.

But Circuit Judge Michael Weatherby also withheld adjudication, meaning International Longshoremen's Association Deep Sea Local 1408 President George Spencer won't have a felony record for the charge if he completes three years of probation and pays a $5,000 fine.

Weatherby said he strongly considered a longer term, likely in a state prison, but took into account support for Spencer from the likes of U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and state Sen. Tony Hill, both Jacksonville Democrats.

"There are people out there who support you even though you've done a stupid thing," Weatherby told Spencer. "What were you thinking? You of all people should have known better."

Spencer, 59, was arrested in 2002 after the FBI -- investigating possible labor violations on the docks -- caught him on tape agreeing to bribe a rape victim $5,000 not to show up in court to testify against her attacker, who was a union member and longtime friend of Spencer. He pleaded no contest in October, and agreed last month to step down as local president Jan. 31.

He refused comment leaving court Friday.

Weatherby ordered him to report to jail Monday morning.

"We respect the judge's decision, and we will abide by the terms and conditions," said Butch Berry, Spencer's attorney, who had asked for probation. "I believe that he struggled with the evidence the state presented and with the witnesses and letters that we presented on George's behalf."

Assistant Statewide Prosecutor Shannon MacGillis had asked for a year in jail and an adjudication of guilt, which probably would have prevented Spencer from holding a union office in the future. But she called Weatherby's decision "fair and intelligent. …

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