By James McNair
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Until Friday, Bill Erpenbeck was happy with the judge sentencing him for his bank-fraud conviction.
Even though U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott is the wife of Cincinnati lawyer Stan Chesley - who won a $16.8 million settlement for 210 homebuyers victimized by Erpenbeck - the former builder liked his chances with the judge, according to an FBI account of a conversation Wednesday between Erpenbeck and his sister, Lori.
FBI agents listened to the talk through a hidden transmitter carried by Lori Erpenbeck. According to a transcript filed with the court Friday, Bill Erpenbeck spends most of his time trying to modify his sister's testimony at an upcoming sentencing hearing. According to the transcript, he says that having Dlott on the case was beneficial to both of them.
"Bill Erpenbeck said that Judge Dlott was sympathetic to white-collar criminals and was one of the best friends of his attorney, Glenn Whitaker, as the two of them practiced law together," wrote agent Kevin Gormley. "Bill Erpenbeck said that he was not sure whether Judge Dlott was 'getting cold feet' or she's 'really hurt,' but she brought in another judge. He indicated that, 'We're praying to God we can keep her' because the other judge is tougher on white-collar crime and 'we think we got a good shot to get something out of her.' "
In another conversation overheard by the FBI, Lori's father, Tony Erpenbeck, reportedly said it "can't hurt" that Dlott had practiced law with Whitaker. He reportedly said Whitaker "goes out to dinner with her probably once a month."
But Friday, Dlott handed off the case to Judge Arthur Spiegel. In a court appearance Friday morning, Dlott said Spiegel was joining her because she was having back problems that required surgery.
Dlott did not return for the afternoon bond hearing. Spiegel said Dlott had recused herself and he had been appointed to take over the case. No explanation was offered for Dlott's withdrawal.
Whitaker denied being Dlott's monthly dinner partner, but confirmed he worked with her 12 years ago at the firm of Graydon Head & Ritchey in Cincinnati.
"Judge Dlott is well respected by every lawyer who comes before her, including myself," Whitaker said. "She behaves herself professionally in every case."
Spiegel's first ruling was to jail Bill and Tony Erpenbeck without bond.
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