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Courtroom reporter charged with lying to feds, perjury

Wes Bunch • Jun 10, 2013 at 2:20 PM

NORTON — A Wise County courtroom reporter was taken into custody by federal authorities last Friday over allegations that he helped a recently convicted attorney make false statements in his attempt to avoid drug charges.

A warrant was issued in federal court Friday for the arrest of Ernest Julius Benko, 66, of Norton, Va., after he allegedly contacted a witness in the case of Stuart Collins, 42, of Wise, Va., twice last week in violation of his pre-trial release.

Collins is a Wise County-based defense attorney who pleaded guilty last month in U.S. District Court in Abingdon to four counts of obtaining controlled substances by fraud.

Benko, who is a courtroom reporter with Roundtable Court Reporting of Norton and the owner of the ARC-TV local cable access channel, is facing separate charges that are directly related to Collins' case, court documents show.

On May 20 of this year, a federal grand jury issued a six-count superseding indictment for Benko on three counts of making, or abiding in the making of, materially false statements to the federal government and one count each of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury before the grand jury.

According to the original federal indictment issued Feb. 25, 2013, Benko was charged after he provided an FBI agent with false information in Sept. 2012 and for work he did in 2009 on behalf of Collins.

The indictment alleges that Collins hired Benko in 2009 "to record sworn statements from individuals involved in the FBI's investigation in order to falsely represent that (Collins) had no involvement" in illegal or unethical activities.

The investigation in Collins' activities took place between 2008 and 2013, records show.

Benko was first taken into custody Feb. 26 at the offices of ARC-TV in Norton before being released on a $10,000 secured bond. That bond was revoked following his most recent arrest.

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