- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 2, 2016

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Latest on the trial of state Rep. Joe Armstrong (all times local):

4:30 p.m.

To prosecutors, longtime state lawmaker Joe Armstrong used his position of power to reap a bonanza from a cigarette tax hike. To Armstrong’s attorneys, the Knoxville Democrat was the victim of his fraudulent accountant.

Opening statements in Armstrong’s federal trial Tuesday painted starkly contrasting views on the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Dale told jurors that Armstrong “violated the trust” of the voters who had sent him to the Statehouse over a nearly 30-year career by orchestrating a scheme to buy cigarette stamps before the tax hike went into effect and later selling them at a profit without paying taxes on the proceeds.

But Armstrong’s attorney, Gregory Isaacs, argued that the government’s case hinges on what he called the false testimony of his accountant, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the prosecution.

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1:20 p.m.

The lone African-American potential juror in state Rep. Joe Armstrong’s tax evasion trial has been excluded for what a federal prosecutor calls “race-neutral reasons.”

Federal prosecutors allege that Armstrong, a Knoxville Democrat, conspired with his accountant to profit from a 2007 state cigarette tax hike, and then tried to hide the more than $318,000 in earnings from the IRS.

Armstrong’s attorney, Gregory Isaacs, argued Tuesday that his client, who is black, deserved to be tried by a jury of his peers and there was no legitimate reason to exclude the African-American juror.

But District Judge Thomas W. Phillips agreed with prosecutor Charles Atchley that the 68-year-old retired caregiver would have had difficulty following a complex tax case.

With the jury seated, opening statements were scheduled to begin on Tuesday afternoon. Armstrong, who has pleaded not guilty, is expected to testify in his defense.

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3:50 a.m.

Just days before Tennessee’s primaries, one veteran state lawmaker won’t be battling on a ballot, but in federal court fighting fraud and tax evasion charges.

Federal prosecutors allege that Democratic state Rep. Joe Armstrong of Knoxville devised a scheme to profit from a state cigarette tax hike in 2007 and then failed to report more than $318,000 in earnings to the IRS.

The trial begins with jury selection in Knoxville on Tuesday.

Armstrong’s attorneys had unsuccessfully sought to keep the defendant’s role as a state lawmaker from the jury, arguing that it would require the defense to fight a political corruption case as opposed to a general tax evasion case.

Prosecutors say Armstrong hid his earnings because he didn’t want to be seen as profiting from Big Tobacco.

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