|Attorney Frankie Coyner & his attorney John Zwerling|
STAUNTON — A special prosecutor on Monday dropped the case against a Stuarts Draft attorney accused of insurance fraud, agreeing that a main witness in the case lacked credibility and had submitted false documents.
The decision came nine months after the public announcement that an Augusta County grand jury had indicted attorney Frankie Coyner on a charge of obtaining money by false pretenses. Coyner represented the potential main witness and one other person in an insurance claim.
But on Monday, special prosecutor Amanda Clymer told Judge Edward Hogshire that the main witness had falsified documents. Clymer requested nolle prosequi — Latin for "not to be prosecuted" — of the charge against Coyner. The request is a legal term that, for all intents and purposes, means the case is being dismissed, either because of a lack of evidence, a major flaw in the prosecution's case or because the prosecutor believes the accused is actually innocent. The judge granted the request.
Technically, a nolle prosequi could be withdrawn, but such an reversal is extremely rare and highly unlikely in this case.
Defense Lawyer John Zwerling of Alexandria said the prosecution witness had multiple fraud convictions, adding that she had misled Coyner about the amount of money she and a partner were making in a dog grooming business.
The basis for the insurance claim was damage to a mobile home the two were using for the dog grooming business. Zwerling said the charge against Coyner was brought despite the Virginia State Police never having contacted the attorney until his arrest.
"They never questioned him or his assistant,'' Zwerling said.
An insurance investigator became suspicious of the claim because of checks submitted to show a stream of income. The investigator determined the checks were in the same exact sequence, despite being weeks or months apart, Zwerling said. In reality, the dog grooming business was a cash business.
Zwerling said the witness might have had to invoke the Fifth Amendment if she had testified on Monday. The defense attorney said that beyond the facts, Coyner would never have risked his legal career for a $15,000 insurance settlement.
"For a personal injury lawyer, that is small potatoes. It's not worth putting his career on the line,'' Zwerling said.
Coyner, who has practiced law for decades in Waynesboro, Staunton and Augusta County, had only one comment on Monday.
"I wouldn't be standing where I am today if I didn't have the best lawyer there is,'' he said.
Coyner has continued to work while waiting for the case to be tried, and said he would be busy with court cases on Tuesday.
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Prosecutors drop fraud charges against Stuarts Draft lawyer