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April 26, 2011

Unwarranted disparity or proportional justice?: lots more federal time for sexting than multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme

Two new reports of federal sentencing outcomes caught my eye this morning because the offense that struck me as less significant and as involving many fewer victims resulted in a much longer federal sentencing term. As the title of this post indicates, I am interesting in reader perspectives as to whether these two cases reveal and reflect unjustified disparities or proportional justice.  

This piece reports on the federal sentencing of an Arkansas man involved in "what prosecutors called an $80 million Ponzi scheme involving automated teller machines that were never bought."  According to the press story, the defendant induced numerous victims "to buy roughly 4,000 ATMs, promising the machines would generate fees from cash withdrawals, but that 90 percent of the ATMs did not exist or were never purchased."

This piece reports on the federal sentencing of a Nebraska man who "convinced a 13-year-old Minnesota girl to send him sexually explicit photos of herself by cell phone." According to the press story, the defendant over an 18-month period "requested and received a series of photos depicting the girl in sexually explicit conduct."

The ATM Ponzi schemer got 8.3 years in federal prison; the sexting pervert got 12 years in federal prison.  I certainly do not wish or mean to minimize the harms that the sexting perv might have created for the young girl who was talked into sending sexual pictures of herself to a dirty old man, and both of these fellows are clearly to face a significant loss of liberty for their non-violent crimes.  Still, the threats and harms created by Ponzi schemer worries me more that those posed by sexters.

Especially as there is so much debate now about increased federal sentencing disparity after Booker, I wonder if it is even possible to systematically assess whether this kind of inter-offense sentencing difference when different crimes are involved serves as proof that the modern federal sentencing system is not especially good at achieving forms of proportional justice.  Any special thoughts on these cases and the broader issues, dear readers?

April 26, 2011 at 09:57 AM | Permalink


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In recent years, Congress has been much more worried about the proliferation of sex offenses than property offenses. So the penalties for sex offenses have been seriously ratcheted up, mainly (I believe) for deterrent reasons.

The ATM ponzi scheme is complicated to pull off, so there are very few people who would even attempt it. But it's pretty easy to go on a chat room and start soliciting teenagers, so that offense is much more prevalent.

I'm actually surprised that the sexting guy got only 12 years, given that plenty of child porn possession defendants have received sentences much more severe than that, despite never abused any actual child.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Apr 26, 2011 10:55:30 AM

i think it just show's how STUPID the u.s has went over SEX!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 26, 2011 7:14:11 PM

I agree that the U.S. has become unhinged when it comes to sex. But in the case of the Nebraska man, I don't know that 12 years was that inappropriate--there was a real victim, and he was actually responsible for the creation of the photos. This is not a case of someone downloading photos that have been floating around the Internet for years, or someone soliciting sex from a "minor" who's actually an adult police officer. In both of those cases, defendants can receive much more than 12 years in prison.

Eight years in prison for a vast ponzi scheme doesn't alarm me either. It's not like there are people out there who are going to think of trying the same thing just because they'll "only" get 8 years in prison. People commit crimes for many reasons, but one of them is usually that they don't think they'll get caught. As for the actual defendant who got the 8 years, it's a long time. I doubt he feels like he got a break. Sure, 10 or 20 years is longer, but at some point we're counting angels on the head of pins.

Posted by: C.A.J. | Apr 26, 2011 8:38:10 PM

oh i agre the guy here is gulity and should get the 12 years if not more.

my problem is just how lopsided the justice sytem is when sex is concerned

here in florida you can get more time for touching a child on the ass...then if you just killed em!

which is JUST NUTS!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 27, 2011 1:55:30 AM

Every penny of value in human history represented the labor of a person. Even if walking on the beach and finding a diamond, the finding, the valuation, and the purchase of the diamond are human labor. Without arguing about the valuation of human life, set it at $6 million using the overly generous market approach. When you steal or destroy $6 million worth of value, you have assassinated a constructive human life's labor. Past that amount, the death penalty should apply to the criminal.

We should that child sexual abuse is damaging and should be criminalized. Childhood means unable to reproduce. So at 14, one is an adult according to nature.

If the sex act is overvalued past its market value, either in sentencing or in restitution, that indicates feminist bias. Bias is presumptively in bad faith because it has a business plan to sustain it.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 27, 2011 3:26:39 PM

Shit happens. Just because technology allows us to "monitor" things like this doesn't mean that we should necesarily prosecute everyone.

Posted by: Sarah | Jul 8, 2011 10:29:28 AM

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