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July 2, 2009

Interesting guideline debate in upcoming federal sentencing of Monica Conyers

This local article out of Detroit, headlined "Conyers sentence fires up debate," highlights the challenge of assessing financial figures under the federal sentencing guidelines in a high-profile public corruption case.  Here are excerpts from this effective article:

Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Monica Conyers says she chose her words carefully on her TV show this week because "I don't want to go to jail."  And although she pleaded guilty Friday to a five-year felony, the possibility exists she won't.

"I'm certainly going to make my best-case argument that she should receive a non-prison sentence," her Detroit attorney, Steve Fishman, said Wednesday.  Fishman would not disclose the arguments he will make, saying he would make his case in a memorandum he will file in federal court before Conyers' sentencing in about three months.  But there is disagreement over what federal sentencing guidelines should apply to Conyers, who announced this week she will resign Monday.

Even after that question is settled, federal judges are no longer bound by sentencing guidelines, so the sentence Conyers receives will be whatever U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn believes is appropriate.  Cohn said when he accepted Conyers' guilty plea that prosecutors believe her guidelines exceed the maximum penalty for conspiring to commit bribery.  That means that if Cohn sentences Conyers within the range calculated by prosecutors, she will get the full five years.

Fishman calculated a much lower guideline range for Conyers -- 30 to 37 months -- and can ask Cohn to sentence Conyers below that range.  One apparent area of disagreement is the value of the benefit received -- a key component in calculating the sentencing guidelines.

The numbers prosecutors used to calculate Conyers' sentencing guidelines have not been released. But calculation worksheets for Rayford W. Jackson, her co-accused, show prosecutors used a $20-million-plus "benefit value."  That large figure is based on the $1.2 billion value of the sewage sludge contract, rather than the bribe amount of $5,000 to $6,000 that Jackson admitted paying and Conyers admitted receiving....

Using the amount of the bribe in place of the amount of the contract would reduce the recommended sentence.  Still, experts were skeptical Wednesday that Fishman could keep Conyers out of prison....

Frank Perry, director of investigations and public affairs for the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service in Raleigh, N.C., said he feels the crucial nature of Conyers' vote -- having changed her position from opposing to supporting the Synagro Technologies Inc. sludge deal in 2007 to allow it to pass 5-4 -- mitigates against a lighter sentence, regardless of the size of the bribe.  "There's a growing sense of increasing the accountability of public officials by way of stiffer sentences," said Perry, a former FBI special agent who handled public corruption cases.  "I believe that's the trend."

July 2, 2009 at 10:35 AM | Permalink


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I am no fan of public fraudsters but using the contract amount is outrageous; the statement by the FBI is plainly silly. What, the four other--presumably honest votes--count for nothing. Way to hate democracy dude. Her vote was not the decisive one and to paint it that way is sickening. Every one of those five votes had equal weight. She should be sentenced based upon the amount of the bribe only. To suggest anything else is wrong.

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 2, 2009 11:10:36 AM

Don't you know that the other four were just smart enough to hide their corruption? And the four no votes had been bought by the competition.

(Actually I agree with you Daniel, I hadn't heard of this case before today.)

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 2, 2009 11:27:46 AM

This racist woman needs the whole five years. Detroit is in the toilet and scum like her is profiting. Five years. By the way, I wonder if she declared that $5K on her tax return. There should be penalties and interest due.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 2, 2009 11:30:06 AM

Having once had a debate of sorts with the sentencing judge here many years ago at a USSC conclave, I think there's a good prospect that Mrs. Conyers -- wife of the Chariman of the House Judiciary Committee and a big-time player in Detroit politics -- will escape any jailtime.

Should that happen, it will be interesting to see if those who ordinarily bridle at the notion that the "Rich and Powerful Scheme the System While the Poor and Oppressed Get Trampled Under" display the usual indignation.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jul 3, 2009 4:41:59 PM

Bill, I assume from our exchanges on other comment threads that you'd categorize me as one of those who suppose that the "Rich and Powerful Scheme the System While the Poor and Oppressed Get Trampled Under." But I was hammering the Conyers bribe scandal the moment it cropped up in the press. (It was a Houston company doing the bribing.) This isn't, or shouldn't be, a partisan or ideological issue.

Chairman Conyers probably deserves more scrutiny on this but there are reasons (mostly related to his particular circumstances and local politics) that he'll likely get a pass: He's 80 years old and his wife is half his age - actually born the year he first went to Congress. I don't think he'll be there much longer no matter what: the last couple of times I've seen him, he appeared pretty disengaged and WELL past his prime, operating far below the top of his game. That said, he's viewed in Detroit as an icon, has a tremendous history of bringing pork barrel money to his district, so he can probably stay as long as he wants.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jul 4, 2009 9:14:15 AM

As a native, property owner, tax payer and dedicated citizen of the City of Detroit, I can't wait to see the authorities place handcuffs on and lock up this lunatic known as Monica Conyers. I not only hope she gets the maximum sentence but that the judge adds extra time for her arrogance. Born on Holloween, she has truly been a nightmare. She has embarrassed me in front of my national colleages and I know that John knew about all of her corrupt activities.

Posted by: L.J. Williamson | Nov 16, 2009 2:56:34 AM

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