Nolan-Cooper's ``conditional'' guilty plea allows her to pursue an appeal of her claim of outrageous government conduct to the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. If she wins, the plea agreement says, Nolan-Cooper, 44, may withdraw her guilty plea.
``As she demonstrated when she testified in the pretrial hearing in this case, my client has always accepted responsibility for her conduct, unlike the government's undercover agents whom the court found to have committed gross misconduct which they then tried to cover up,'' her attorney, David M. Howard, said after yesterday's hearing.
On Oct. 4, Robreno handed Nolan-Cooper a moral victory of sorts. Robreno said he was convinced that Nolan-Cooper and undercover IRS agent Louis Oubre did have sexual intercourse on one occasion in 1995 and that Oubre lied on the witness stand in an attempt to hide the incident.
But the judge refused to dismiss the indictment, saying Nolan-Cooper's allegations did not meet the strict legal standard required by prior Supreme Court and appeals court rulings. The judge said Nolan-Cooper had to prove that Oubre's supervisors knew of the sexual contact and allowed it to continue to further the investigation, and that Oubre consciously decided to romance Nolan-Cooper and use sex ``as a tool in the investigation.''
The principal benefit of Nolan-Cooper's guilty plea was in the potential prison term she faces.
Had Nolan-Cooper gone to trial Monday and been convicted of the drug and money-laundering counts on which she and seven others were indicted, she would have faced at least 10 years in prison without chance of parole.
Nolan-Cooper, of the 900 block of Wynnewood Road in Overbrook, who had operated a solo family law practice in Center City, was indicted last year on charges that she and a small group of business owners laundered money the undercover IRS agents told them was illegal drug profits.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Terri Marinari said Nolan-Cooper's plea agreement does not require that she testify against the others indicted with her.
Two of those indicted previously pleaded guilty and agreed to testify in Monday's trial of Carl D. Ellis, 50, an accountant and Philadelphia public-school teacher; Ester L. Carter, 64, a recording studio owner; Darnell F. Greene, 39, a financial consultant from Willingboro in South Jersey; and South Jersey businessmen Warren E. Mikell, 47, of Sicklerville and Stephen Henderson, 39, of Cherry Hill.
According to court documents, as recently as Oct. 21, Nolan-Cooper was planning to go to trial using the defense of entrapment - that she was improperly lured into the drug and money-laundering conspiracies by undercover agent Oubre.
But entrapment is considered a problematic defense because the defendant must admit committing the crime charged and must then establish that he or she did not have a ``criminal disposition'' before the approach by the undercover government agent.
Had Nolan-Cooper testified in her own defense, prosecutors said, they would have confronted her with her testimony at last month's hearings before Judge Robreno, at which she admitted that she knew that her dealings with Oubre were wrong. Moreover, she was facing more than 200 secretly made government audiotapes of her conversations with Oubre and others in which she incriminated herself in money-laundering.
Robreno set sentencing for Jan. 22.