Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Steve McNair Shooting: Focusing on a Sleazy Lawyer With GOP Ties

Adrian Gilliam, the convicted murderer who sold the gun that was used to kill former NFL quarterback Steve McNair, recently was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in federal prison.

Our research indicates Gilliam would have been a whole lot better off if a lawyer had been involved in the transaction that led to McNair's death. In fact, based on an Alabama case from several years ago, Gilliam might not have been scrutinized at all if he had thought to get a politically connected lawyer involved.

In the McNair case, Gilliam pleaded guilty to being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. In the Alabama case, a convicted felon named Don Weiffenbach used a pistol to shoot a man named Lawrence Weems 11 times after a confrontation outside Weems' home in Trussville.

Weiffenbach had been hired as a private investigator in a divorce case involving Weems and his then wife, Beverly. Who hired Weiffenbach? Beverly Weems and her attorney--William E. Swatek.

We have written extensively about Bill Swatek's ties to our Legal Schnauzer story--and his 30-year record of unethical practices as a lawyer. We also have written about Swatek's family ties to local and national GOP "royalty."

It's undisputed that Don Weiffenbach, who is now deceased, had a felony conviction from Arizona--and he was in possession of a firearm that he used to shoot Larry Weems 11 times. But did federal authorities take any action against Weiffenbach following the Weems shooting? We can see no indication in court records that they did.

Is that because Bill Swatek helped Weiffenbach obtain the pistol, and law enforcement didn't go after a convicted felon who was likely to finger a lawyer? Based on a lawsuit that Larry Weems filed after he somehow recovered from the shooting, the answer appears to be yes.

Here's how we reported on the case in an earlier post:

Larry Weems alleged in a lawsuit that Swatek helped Weiffenbach obtain a pistol permit in Shelby County after he had been denied in Jefferson County because of the felony conviction. . . .

What happened in the aftermath of the shooting? Larry Weems filed lawsuits against Shelby County and the City of Trussville. His lawsuit for negligent hiring and supervision against Swatek and Beverly Weems generated enough documents to fill several large folders at the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Larry Weems says that depositions in the case present compelling evidence that Swatek was at least partly responsible for Weiffenbach obtaining a pistol permit in Shelby County. Not long after the shooting, Swatek sold his house to his wife and put it in her name, according to Shelby County probate records.

Did Larry Weems receive justice in the lawsuit against Swatek? Not exactly. In fact, court documents indicate the Alabama legal community joined forces to protect one of its sleaziest practitioners:

Weems' lawsuit dragged on for years before eventually losing steam and being dismissed--for reasons that are hard to determine from viewing the case file.

Was the lawsuit dismissed mainly because Weems had a member of the Birmingham legal community in the crosshairs? Did the "justice" community rally to dismiss Weems' lawsuit, not based on the facts and law, but based on the need to protect one of its own?

Consider this: Weems says he filed a criminal complaint with the Birmingham office of the FBI, and nothing was done about it. He filed a complaint against Swatek with the Alabama State Bar, and it was not investigated--even though Swatek had been disciplined three times previously by the state bar, including a suspension of his license.

The bottom line? Weiffenbach moved to Florida, where he died a few years ago. Swatek still is practicing law and has been a central character in our tale of legal skulduggery. To my knowledge, he never has paid Larry Weems one cent.

Here's a lesson for Adrian Gilliam and folks like him: If you are a convicted felon and you want to possess a firearm, make sure a lawyer is somehow connected to the deal. You will greatly enhance your chances of getting away with a crime.

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