HAMMOND | Former North Township supervisor Robert Cantrell won’t be allowed to appeal his fraud and income tax convictions, according to a ruling Friday in U.S. District Court.
Cantrell was sentenced in 2009 to 6.5 years in prison for using his position in public office to steer contracts to a substance abuse counseling company in exchange for cash kickbacks. He also was found guilty of insurance fraud for “deceptively procuring” township-funded health insurance coverage for two of his children, filing false income tax returns and other offices.
Cantrell’s petition to appeal stated his trial attorney’s performance was “constitutionally deficient” for misunderstanding Rule 29(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, causing his attorney to fail to call Cantrell and former North Township Trust Gregory Cvitkovich as witnesses.
The federal court ruling states there is no need to resolve the question of his attorney’s performance because Cantrell failed to establish his attorney’s alleged deficient performance caused him any prejudice. Even if Cantrell's attorney failed to call any witnesses based on his misunderstanding of trial rules, that failure did not alter the trial's outcome, according to the ruling.
Cantrell trial attorney Kevin Milner, in a statement to the court, said he did not call Cantrell or Cvitkovich as witnesses because the government had failed to formally identify Cantrell as the defendant at the trial and Milner believed his motion for a directed verdict would be successful. He reasoned that if he called any witnesses to testify on Cantrell’s behalf, Cantrell would have been identified. He said Cantrell expressed a desire to testify on his own behalf.
In 2005, Cvitkovich pleaded guilty to federal tax-fraud charges and was sentenced to five months in prison. In addition to his sentence, Cantrell was ordered to repay the $68,000 he took from North Township through contract fraud, court records show.