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Prosecutors argue for third-party testimony

Deceased cockfighting ring owner was seen as a possible witness

Daniel Presgraves
Daniel Presgraves

By Elizabeth Wilkerson -- ewilkerson@nvdaily.com

HARRISONBURG -- A cockfighting pit owner who may have testified against former Page County Sheriff Daniel W. "Danny" Presgraves has died, but prosecutors plan to introduce the substance of Presgraves' conversation with the deceased man through a third person, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.

On July 29, Presgraves' attorneys filed a memo supporting a motion made in February asking that "surplusage" -- allegations that are not necessary to establish a violation of the statute -- in the indictment against him be struck. The memo says it is "made to insure that the jury does not receive irrelevant and prejudicial allegations in the indictment."

The former sheriff faces 23 counts in two separate indictments, including racketeering, money laundering, lying to federal investigators, obstructing a federal grand jury investigation and violating the civil rights of his female employees. If convicted on all counts, he could face more than 300 years in prison.

According to the indictment, "in or about 2000" Presgraves "told the owner of a cockfighting pit in the Naked Creek section of Page County that as long as he kept a low profile he had nothing to worry about from law enforcement."

But, "the owner of the Naked Creek cockfighting pit is deceased and any testimony concerning statements Presgraves allegedly made to him are inadmissible because they are irrelevant," the defendant's memo says.

"Without the owner of the cockfighting pit available to testify at trial, any purported testimony he was expected to give concerning statements allegedly made by Presgraves will constitute hearsay with no readily identifiable exception," it says.

And, Presgraves' attorneys, "after reviewing thousands of pages of discovery, [are] unaware of any other persons who may have been privy to this supposed conversation," the memo says.

Including the information "in the indictment is plainly prejudicial as it suggests that Presgraves 'engages in a pattern of misconduct to protect illegal cockfighting activities from interference by law enforcement agencies,'" it says.

In its Aug. 10 response to Presgraves' motion to strike the surplusage, the government says it "intends to introduce the substance of this conversation through a former employee of the [Page County Sheriff's Office], James Moomaw, who was present with Presgraves and the owner of the cockfighting pit when this conversation took place."

In the July 29 memo, Presgraves also moves to strike language in the indictment's introduction related to the number of employees in the Sheriff's Office and their "at will" employment status; his previous employment as a law enforcement officer in the area with the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Board; and inmate transportation by Presgraves, his wife and Sheriff's Office employees at his discretion.

In its reply, the government argues that "if the court determines that information contained within the indictment is admissible evidence ... there is no basis for finding said information is surplusage and no reason to strike" it.

Presgraves' trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 16. The final pretrial motions conference is today in Roanoke, according to online court records.

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