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August 9, 2006

Intriguing gamble on federal resentencing

Reporting on a case that might make for a great in-class problem a sentencing course, the Knoxville News Sentinel has this interesting article about dynamic developments in the sentencing of a federal defendant convicted of running on on-line gambling operation.  Here is a snippet:

Eight days after ordering the head of a multimillion-dollar gambling ring to prison, a federal judge did an about-face that prosecutors contend was unfair and wrong. Senior U.S. District Judge James H. Jarvis on July 19 ordered James E. "Slim" Houston, 58, of Knoxville to spend a year and a day in federal prison for heading up an illegal numbers game and laundering millions in illegal profits.  Eight days later, Jarvis issued a written order vacating the prison term and instead put Houston on probation for two years.

The reversal came after defense attorney David Eldridge filed a motion asking Jarvis to reconsider. In that motion, Eldridge contended that Jarvis failed to consider the "culture" that Houston, a black man from East Knoxville, grew up in. "Mr. Houston grew up as a part of a community where playing the numbers was culturally accepted - that people from all walks of life played the numbers," Eldridge wrote....

Houston's game, played via the Internet and offered to players in several states, was based on winning numbers in legal state lotteries.  The difference is that Houston served as the "bank" and gamblers in his illegal lottery stood a much better chance of actually winning than in legal state lotteries like Tennessee's game. Houston was raking in millions and wound up forfeiting some $4 million in cash and property as part of his plea deal.

Eldridge also insisted that Houston was the only gambling mastermind in East Tennessee to be sent to prison in the nearly two decades the attorney has practiced law here. It was that argument that Jarvis used as the basis for his sentencing change of heart.  The judge made no mention of Eldridge's "culturally accepted" defense.  "The court has now independently researched this area and concludes that defense counsel is indeed correct," Jarvis wrote.

Not so, responded Assistant U.S. Attorney John P. MacCoon.  MacCoon has filed a motion to strike down the change in Houston's sentence.  MacCoon said Jarvis had no authority to change Houston's sentence....  Finally, MacCoon said Eldridge and Jarvis are flat-out wrong when they say no gamblers have found themselves in federal prison. He listed six cases "from the Chattanooga area alone in which a cooperating gambling defendant was sentenced to active prison time." "We would further note that Mr. Houston's gambling operation was far larger than that of any of these gambling defendants," MacCoon wrote.

August 9, 2006 at 07:17 AM | Permalink


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Interesting article. I'm looking into illegal "peashake" gambling that is currently under fire in Indianapolis, IN. This article leaves me wondering how much influence these illegal operations have within our judicial systems, and who stands to benefit most.

For example, if a lending institution were maintaining a large account balance for Mr. Houston, that capital could easily translate into tens of millions of dollars in loan potential. Wouldn't that lender be operating in it's own best interest to rise to the defense of valuable clients like Houston? Maybe a handshake deal in the judges chamber?

Of course I'm only speculating, but retracting a sentence based upon a motion that has no merit strikes me as somewhat odd. Almost as if the motion was introduced only as justification for a supposed "change of heart".

Nonetheless, this is an interesting news peice. It raises some interesting concerns with regards to how illegal gambling operators in Indianapolis may potentially influence verdicts if they ever face a judge.

I'm not involved in the legal field - I'm just a little guy with no influence who's interested in what keeps an illegal gambling racket in Indianapolis ticking.

Thanks for the post - it raises some good questions.

Posted by: Shorebreak | Mar 19, 2007 10:00:43 AM

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