Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Sad Ending To A Promising Career

The Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board accepted the revocation of an attorney's license.

The Roanoke Times reported 

A Richmond attorney who gained national exposure five years ago for helping incarcerated juvenile offenders as a University of Virginia law student pleaded guilty Thursday to three felonies related to smuggling an addictive opioid drug and a cellphone to an inmate at Riverside Regional Jail serving 30 years for murder.

In a plea agreement between the prosecution and defense, Dana Lauren Tapper, 30, of Richmond, pleaded guilty in Prince George Circuit Court to one count each of providing a prisoner with a cellphone, conspiracy to provide the prisoner with a cellphone and conspiracy to provide a controlled substance to the prisoner.

In exchange for her pleas, Assistant Prince George Commonwealth's Attorney Mark Bernard withdrew three accompanying felony charges.

In accordance with the agreement, Circuit Judge Allan Sharrett sentenced Tapper to 20 years in prison with all but three months suspended. The judge allowed a defense request that Tapper begin serving her time on Aug. 13.

The charges against Tapper, who received national attention in 2013 when she appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and was handed two $10,000 checks in a surprise gift, arose from two incidents five days apart at Riverside Regional Jail involving an inmate named Karon Porter. Tapper provided Porter a cellphone on Dec. 7 and passed him Suboxone strips on Dec. 12, according to a summary of evidence.

Suboxone is a frequently abused narcotic, Bernard told the court. It is typically used in the management of opioid abuse and withdrawal but can be abused resulting in addiction.

Tapper was not the attorney of record for Porter, but she went to visit him at Riverside Regional Jail 38 times between November 2016 and February 2018, according to jail records.

The investigation into Tapper's illegal activities at the jail, which is in Prince George, was investigated by Chesterfield County police who received a tip from another inmate about Tapper and Porter.

Tapper was represented Thursday by attorneys Craig Cooley and Chris Collins. Both the prosecution and defense emphasized in court Thursday there was no evidence that Tapper was having a sexual relationship with Porter.

Porter, 28, was sentenced in September to 30 years in prison on a felony murder charge for killing a third-generation Marine officer in a horrific crash while fleeing police in Chesterfield County in March 2013.

When asked by the judge if the defendant had anything to say, Tapper declined to comment. Tapper also declined to comment to reporters as she left the courthouse.

Collins said that Tapper plans to surrender her law license now that she has pleaded guilty.

Tapper was recognized in 2013 as a third-year law student for volunteering her time outside of her classes at the UVa School of Law "to help children transition out of juvenile detention centers in Virginia," according to a story on the school's website at the time.

During her televised appearance, DeGeneres presented her with a gift of $10,000 contributed by Shutterfly, an online photo service. "That'll help pay for your bar exam and other expenses, right?" DeGeneres said to Tapper.

 Moments later, a Shutterfly representative walked on stage and handled Tapper an oversized check for an additional $10,000.

Tapper worked with the JustChildren program at the Legal Aid Justice Center and also participated in the law school's Child Advocacy Clinic, which provides legal assistance to troubled low-income children.

A friend of Tapper, Kathryn Cragg, who also was a third-year law student at the time, had written DeGeneres a letter about Tapper, which DeGeneres read on the show.

"Most law students are lured in by promises of large corporate salaries to help pay off their debt, but Dana has been steadfast in her commitment to helping those less fortunate," Cragg wrote in her letter.

In the story for the school's website, Tapper was quoted as saying, "I want to be an advocate for kids. I've met some of the most incredible people. They have just this incredible untapped potential. I would like to help them realize it."

Tapper, who at the time of her arrest lived in a Richmond apartment in the 2300 block of East Cary Street, operated a law practice at 2222 Monument Avenue in the city. It has since closed,

WRIC ABA 8 had additional coverage of the conviction. (Mike Frisch)

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