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July 23, 2009

Another big federal fraud sentencing dealing with Madoff echoes

This local story out of Virginia, which is headlined "Okun’s lawyers say life sentence not warranted," provide another example of the echo effect of Bernie Madoff's severe fraud sentence. Here are the details:

Authorities want a 400-year sentence for Edward Hugh Okun — or one that otherwise assures he spends the rest of his life in prison — as the mastermind of a $126 million fraud.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court yesterday, prosecutors said the former Miami businessman used nearly $40 million in client money as a "personal piggy bank" to fund a divorce settlement and buy a jet, a helicopter, homes and jewelry for his new wife. "Unlike other recent high-profile fraud prosecutions, Okun's victims never asked [Okun] to invest and risk their money," the U.S. attorney's office argues.  Instead, the victims entrusted their money to Okun to be held in bank and escrow accounts. "Okun's criminal acts drove many individuals to economic collapse or near collapse, and caused especially significant noneconomic, emotional damage on many of his victims," the 13-page sentencing memorandum states.

Okun's lawyers, in their own memorandum filed yesterday, said a life sentence is not warranted under federal sentencing guidelines and that a 10- to 15-year sentence would be more appropriate. Okun, 58, is to be sentenced in a two-day hearing beginning Aug. 4 before U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne in Richmond. Accused of masterminding the fraud that victimized at least 232 people across the country, he was convicted of all 23 counts in a jury trial here in March....

Okun's lawyers yesterday presented a study of cases from 1998 to 2008 — with losses of $100 million to $400 million — that shows the average sentence was 94.6 months.  Of those cases, 14 defendants faced guideline sentences of life, but none was sentenced to life.

They noted that Bernard Madoff received a maximum 150-year sentence last month, in a much larger and longer-running Ponzi scheme that took in $65 billion and victimized thousands. They also said that while the government sought 145 years in prison for lawyer Marc Dreier, nicknamed the "Mini-Madoff," in a $700 million fraud, he was sentenced this month to 20 years by a judge who said Dreier's crimes paled in comparison with Madoff's.  "Not only is Okun no Madoff, he is no Dreier," Okun's lawyers argue. They said the maximum guideline sentence in Okun's case is 20 years, "which is essentially a life sentence."

Jayne W. Barnard, a law professor at the College of William and Mary, said it is no surprise Madoff is on the minds of Okun and his lawyers.  "Every fraud defendant right now is very uncomfortable because the 150-year sentence is out there. And every fraud defendant in the country right now is trying to distinguish what they did from what Bernie Madoff did," she said.

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July 23, 2009 at 12:49 PM | Permalink


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If Bernie Madoff got 150 years for bilking people out of $65 billion, that's one day in prison for roughly every $1,190,000 of ill-gotten gains. Perhaps prosecutors should be careful what they ask for in cases with lesser amounts of loss, often lacking a sound basis in calculation. i do state-court criminal defense work.

Posted by: Greg Jones | Aug 6, 2009 10:54:15 AM

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