FBI Agent Gets Probation Deal for Destroying Evidence
An FBI agent who destroyed evidence in a high-profile political case targeting a Republican lawmaker has been spared jail time and sentenced to three years of probation instead by an Obama-appointed judge.
FBI Special Agent Robert Cessario of Bentonville, Arkansas, pleaded guilty in August last year to destroying evidence in the public corruption case against former state Senator Jon Woods of Springdale, a pro-Trump Republican.
Mr. Woods, along with co-defendants, was charged in March 2017 with fraud and money-laundering in a kickback scheme worth $20 million. A jury found him guilty in May 2018, and he was sentenced to 220 months in federal prison by Obama-appointed Judge Timothy Brooks.
In August 2019, however, Agent Robert Cessario pleaded guilty to erasing a number of audio files related to the case against Mr. Woods that the court had ordered to be presented before it.
Agent Cessario took his official laptop to a local computer store in Bentonville in December 2017 and paid about $60 in cash to have the device professionally ‘wiped’ so as to eliminate all the digital files. Three days later, Cessario again ‘wiped’ his laptop at home for removing any remaining files before handing it over to the court.
Despite pleading guilty in 2019, Agent Cessario walked free while Woods was imprisoned. Now, nearly four years later, Cessario has been sentenced to three years of probation by U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes, another Obama-appointed judge, even though the minimum recommended punishment for his crime is 10 months in prison.
Cessario is also required to pay a $25,000 fine. His sentence, however, can be further mitigated by cooperation. At the court, Cessario was cited saying:
“I’d like to say that five years ago, I had an extreme lack of judgment. I apologize to my family, friends and colleagues.”
Jon Woods maintains that the evidence destroyed by Cessario would have proven his innocence. He appealed his conviction in 2020 after Cessario’s guilty plea to the destruction of evidence in his case. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that the evidence destroyed by Cessario lacked exculpatory value, and hence Woods’ appeal was denied.
It remains unexplained why Cessario destroyed the evidence if it had no exculpatory value. In April of last year, Woods appealed once again Eighth Circuit, but the court rejected it in August.