Thursday, January 6, 2000

Judge delays prison term for ex-official

RODNEY BOWERS
ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

Roger Walls of Sheridan, former administrator of the 7th Judicial District Drug Task Force, will not begin serving a 28-month federal prison sentence for extortion until March 1 after he is treated for cancer, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Stribling said Wednesday.
     Walls, 50, was sentenced in July and was to report to prison Monday. U.S. District Judge Stephen M. Reasoner granted a motion last week delaying Walls' commitment date so he could receive treatment.
     Walls' attorney, Jack Lassiter of Little Rock, said Wednesday that Walls has malignant melanoma, a form of cancer that is in remission but could recur. However, the cancer "metastasized in the past year," so Walls sought treatment at a Houston hospital, Lassiter said. The delay will allow Walls to receive follow-up care, Lassiter said.
     Along with the 28-month sentence, Walls was ordered to pay $12,500 in restitution and a $10,000 fine and to serve two years of supervised release after his prison term.
     Along with Walls, former Prosecuting Attorney Dan Harmon of Benton was convicted of extortion and four other felonies in June 1997.
     Harmon, who headed the drug task force that operated at that time in Saline, Grant and Hot Spring counties, and Walls were charged with extorting more than $5,000 from Ernest Varnardo of Fort Worth.
     Varnardo was arrested Dec. 16, 1992, and had faced drug charges in Saline County after police found illegal narcotics during a traffic stop.
     After Varnardo failed to appear for court after he was released, Walls and Harmon picked him up at his home in April 1993, brought him back to Arkansas and placed him in the Grant County jail. Varnardo never appeared before a judge, either for extradition in Texas or on drug charges in Arkansas.
     Varnardo testified in federal court that he made a payment to Harmon and was released. He said he later made a payment to Harmon in a restaurant parking lot.
     Harmon and Walls originally were indicted together in April 1997. Four charges were dropped against Walls before his trial, and he was acquitted of a fifth.

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