GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — A federal jury found Melvin James Harris, 46, of Peshawbestown, Michigan, and Vanessa Louis Hunter, 45, of Rockford, Illinois, guilty of conspiring to tamper with a witness in a federal trial. A third member of the conspiracy, Corey John Raphael, pled guilty to conspiracy to witness tamper earlier this year. The jury also convicted Harris of distributing cocaine, assaulting a federal officer, contempt of court, and witness tampering. Harris faces up to life in federal prison, and Hunter faces up to 20 years.
The evidence at trial showed that on August 14, 2019, Harris sold cocaine to an individual who was assisting police with narcotics investigations. Harris chose the location for the sale – a spot within the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians’ community, commonly known as Peshawbestown. Four days later, Harris assaulted a federal officer who was attempting arrest him.
In September 2019, Harris was charged in federal court with distributing cocaine and assaulting an officer. After he learned the identity of the person who had assisted police with the narcotics investigation, Harris conspired with Hunter, Raphael, and others to tamper with that witness, in an effort to discourage the witness from testifying against him. Harris ultimately succeeded in contacting the witness through intermediaries and asked the witness not to go to court. Harris also disseminated the witness’s name and other personal information in violation of a court order. He used the jail’s phone system to do so, and he directed his co-conspirators and associates to further disseminate the information through Facebook and other means. Additional charges against Harris, Hunter, and Raphael soon followed.
“This verdict sends a clear message to those who would try to subvert our justice system by violating court orders and intimidating witnesses,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge.
This case was jointly investigated by the Traverse Narcotics Team, Drug Enforcement Administration, Grand Traverse Band Tribal Police Department, Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office, and Michigan State Police.