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June 24, 2009

Notable upward variance for white-collar offender

This local federal sentencing story from Massachusetts, which is headlined "Judge throws the book at Cape church swindler," highlights that judges are sometimes eager to bring down the sentencing hammer on certain white-collar criminals:

A federal judge yesterday sentenced a Harwich Port man to 15 years in prison for stealing $14 million from the Natick company where he worked and more than $600,000 from the Cape Cod church where he volunteered.  Jeffrey Windle, 42, entered the courtroom wearing brown and tan prison clothes. During the sentencing he looked down.

"While this is not literally a career offender, it has some marks of it," said U.S. District Court Judge George O'Toole in explaining his decision to sentence Windle to one year more in prison than prosecutors requested and 2½ years more than the maximum called for under sentencing guidelines. O'Toole also ordered Windle to pay back all the money he had taken.

Windle was arrested more than a year ago after officials at Cambium Learning Inc. in Natick discovered he had embezzled millions of dollars from the company's accounts. Windle had worked for the previous four years as director of budget and finance at the company, which specializes in educational materials for special-needs students.

Once the FBI began an investigation, officials at the Congregational Church of South Dennis where Windle volunteered as treasurer found money missing from church accounts. Windle took $647,0000 from the church and funneled money from Cambium to his personal bank accounts through the congregation's accounts, according to prosecutors.

He used the money to buy a $1.9 million house in Harwich Port and two million-dollar homes in Florida. He also bought luxury cars and boats. In March Windle pleaded guilty to 24 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.

Windle's family, Cambium officials and church members looked on yesterday as he was sentenced. "I took from them something that probably will affect them the rest of their lives; trust, trust in a friend," Windle told the judge. At one point during his statement Windle broke into tears, saying that he hoped the people he betrayed would someday "know how truly sorry I am."

The small Cape congregation has struggled financially and emotionally since Windle's crimes were uncovered, according to victim impact statements read in court yesterday....

In pleading for leniency Windle's Boston-based attorney, John Moscardelli, said his client had repeatedly expressed shame and embarrassment. Insecurities and low self-esteem that may stem from Windle's relationship with his father could have played a role in his actions, Moscardelli said.

Windle admitted to using the stolen money to buy cars that he had never driven, the accumulation of material goods being his client's only means of proving he was successful in his own mind, Moscardelli said....

Prosecutors painted a very different picture of the man. "He was like basically a one-man crime wave," Justice Department attorney Carmen Ortiz said. Windle stole from the church the "minute he started working there," Ortiz said. "He used that money to aggrandize his life." Windle not only failed to report taxes, he filed false returns claiming donations he never made, she said.

It is stories like this one that makes me think that Bernie Madoff's request for only a 12-year prison sentence will be an awfully hard sell.  Like Madoff, this defendant Windle pleaded guilty and apparently accepted responsibility.  But, in the face of moving victim impact statements, the judge decided a long prison term was needed.  The same is likely to be true in Madoff's case.

June 24, 2009 at 08:15 AM | Permalink

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Comments

I know the obvious answer (easy conviction, longer sentence). Still I feel compelled to ask, why a genuine Massachusetts thief is being prosecuted in federal court for bogus derivitive crimes like wire fraud and money laundering?

Since Mr. Wendle is neither a pirate nor a counterfeiter, pray tell, exactly how did stealing from his boss and his church in Massachusetts affect interstate commerce?

Are the state courts no longer functioning in Massachusetts? Is there even a pretense remaining that a national police force hasn't displaced state authorities?

Posted by: John K | Jun 25, 2009 1:09:17 PM

Watch this trend: Electronic records like e-mail and text messages are revolutionizing white collar investigations. --Ben Wright (attorney)

Posted by: Benjamin Wright | Jul 6, 2009 11:09:52 AM

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