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"Do you understand what you're charged with and the possible punishment?" federal Magistrate Judge Joe Brown asked him.
"Yes sir," 59-year-old Moreland replied, seated in a button-down shirt and khakis next to his lawyer, Peter Strianse of Nashville. Asked for comment as he was leaving the courtroom, Moreland did not respond.
An FBI investigation of Moreland came to a head Tuesday, when federal officials announced the judge had been charged. That prompted Mayor Megan Barry to suggest the judge should resign, and Metro Council members took an initial step to call for his departure.
Moreland stands accused by the FBI of trying to bribe a woman to recant allegations against him by offering her $6,100, and conspiring with a confidential source to plant drugs on her in an apparent attempt to smear her credibility.
"The allegations set forth in the indictment set forth egregious abuses of power by a judge sitting here in Nashville," acting U.S. Attorney for Middle Tennessee Jack Smith announced in a Tuesday morning news conference.
Court documents say Moreland was charged with attempting to obstruct justice through bribery, witness tampering and retaliating against a witness. The charges carry an up to 20-year prison sentence.
Strianse argued in court Tuesday that federal law did not allow for the government to hold Moreland in custody, as Assistant U.S. Attorney Cecil VanDevender asked. Brown said Moreland would remain in custody at least until a hearing set for Friday afternoon.
“He’s obviously in a bit of a state of shock,” Strianse said of Moreland. “He certainly didn’t expect to be awoken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation this morning at 6 a.m. with a search warrant. They went to his sister’s home where he’s been living.”
The FBI investigation into Moreland, a judge since 1998, related to allegations that he helped people he knew in exchange for benefits including sexual favors, travel and lodging. Among the allegations documented in police reports and accounts were that he intervened in a traffic stop for a woman he had a personal relationship with and waived jail time for his future son-in-law.
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Feds: Moreland tried to pay woman $6,100 to recant allegations against him