Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Heiress involved in NXIVM group gets way-above-guideline sentence

I have not really been following the NXIVM saga at all, but today brought a first federal sentencing case that caught my attention. This local article, headlined "Clare Bronfman receives more than six years for NXIVM crimes Federal judge exceeds sentence prosecutors had been seeking," provides these details:

Heiress Clare Bronfman was sentenced Wednesday to six years and nine months in federal prison for crimes related to her leadership role in NXIVM. She was taken directly into federal custody at the end of the court proceeding.

The sentence was handed down to the 41-year-old daughter of late Seagram's tycoon Edgar Bronfman in a Brooklyn courtroom after several victims related their painful experiences dealing with the well-heeled backer of Keith Raniere’s cult-like organization.

A number of former NXIVM members delivered victim impact statements to Senior U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis. One of those women was Barbara Bouchey, a former girlfriend of Raniere's who faced years of retaliation by NXIVM after she left the group more than a decade ago. She called Garaufis' sentence justice served: “When I heard him say 81 months, I was speechless,” Bouchey said.

Bronfman, who has homes in Clifton Park and Manhattan, was anticipating a sentence of just 21 to 27 months in prison under sentencing guidelines for her guilty plea to conspiracy to conceal and harbor illegal aliens for financial gain, and fraudulent use of identification.

Garaufis had made it clear he was considering an "above guidelines" punishment. Her recently hired attorneys, Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. and Duncan Levin, have asked for three years of probation. Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn’s Eastern District have asked for a five-year prison sentence. Garuafis went beyond both requests. He also levied a $500,000 fine on Bronfman.

Prosecutors said Bronfman, who was in NXIVM alongside her older sister, Sara Bronfman-Igtet, used her wealth to recruit immigrants – usually women – into NXIVM-related groups under the idea that they would get a scholarship or work. But Bronfman instead got a work-force of recruits desperate to earn a living and who were dependent on her and NXIVM to stay in the country.  Prosecutors have said Bronfman helped Raniere target the company’s perceived enemies, which included members of the organization who defected....

Raniere, 60, a longtime Halfmoon resident known in NXIVM as “Vanguard,” was convicted at trial last year of all charges, which included sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy and racketeering charges that included underlying acts that included child exploitation, possession of child pornography, identity theft, extortion, fraud and other crimes.  He faces the possibility of life in prison at his sentencing on Oct. 27.

This New York Times article reporting on the sentencing notes why this case may end up in the Second Circuit: "Ronald Sullivan, a lawyer for Ms. Bronfman, said he would appeal the sentence, calling it an 'abomination'."

September 30, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 28, 2020

Fifth Circuit panel rejects claims of unconstitutional or unreasonable trial penalty at sentencing

A Fifth Circuit panel ruling today addresses, but ultimately rejects, a white-collar defendant's claim that "her sentence should be vacated because it was the result of an unconstitutional 'trial penalty' — a punishment for choosing to exercise her right to stand trial instead of pleading guilty." US v. Gozes-Wagner, No. 19-20157 (5th Cir. Sept. 28, 2020) (available here).  Because I helped with an amicus brief in the case, I will not comment extensively beyond recommending the opinion be read in full and highlighting these passages (with footnotes and cites removed):

Here, however, Gozes-Wagner and Voronov were ultimately charged with different crimes that carried different statutory maximum sentences.  Although they may have participated similarly in the conspiracy, our job is not to look at their two sentences and decide whether we think Voronov and Gozes-Wagner should have been punished more equally based on their conduct.  Instead, our duty is to determine whether the district court sentenced Gozes-Wagner more harshly than it otherwise would have because she went to trial instead of pleading guilty.  And on this record, we cannot say that it did...

For example, if the district court plainly stated that it was punishing the defendant more severely than it otherwise would because she went to trial, that would clearly amount to a constitutional violation even absent a comparison to others similarly situated to the defendant. But that did not happen here.

We recognize that most — if not all — cases will not be so cut-and-dried, and that a defendant’s constitutional rights may be violated even absent such an explicit statement.  In those cases, it is the comparison to others that necessarily sheds light on whether a constitutional violation occurred.  If the only meaningful difference between defendants was that one went to trial and the others did not, and the trial-standing defendant received a much more severe sentence than the pleading defendants, it could very well be the case that vacatur of the sentence will be required on trial penalty grounds.  But a defendant who cooperates with the Government is not similarly situated to one who refuses to do so.  Nor are defendants similarly situated when they are convicted under different statutes that carry different maximum sentences.  If the case were otherwise, we would be holding that the Constitution mandates that defendants convicted of committing different crimes be sentenced similarly if the conduct underling those convictions is similar.  We see no such mandate in the Constitution or in the Due Process caselaw addressing claims like Gozes-Wagner’s.

I cannot help noting that, though nothing "in the Constitution or in the Due Process caselaw" may speak to sentencing disparities, Congress expressly instructed sentencing judges, in 18 USC 3553(a)(6), to consider "the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct."  And the sentencing judge in this case knew that defendant Voronov (who "participated similarly in the conspiracy") faced a 5-year maximum sentence after pleading guilty, but he still gave Gozes-Wagner a sentence of 20 years.  That served as one basis for arguing that this sentence was unreasonable even if not unconstitutional, but the Fifth Circuit panel was ultimately unmoved on reasonableness arguments:

Nothing in the record suggests that the court went out of its way to punish Gozes-Wagner for going to trial. To the contrary, when presented with arguments that she was similarly situated to her co-defendants, the district court correctly pointed out that for various reasons, including the fact that her co-conspirators pleaded guilty to charges carrying lower maximum sentences, she was not similarly situated to them at sentencing. The record does not reflect a clear error of judgment in the district court’s balancing of the § 3553(a) factors.

September 28, 2020 in Booker in the Circuits, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, August 23, 2020

"Incarceration and the Law: Cases and Materials (Table of Contents and Ch. 1 Excerpt)"

The title of this post is the title of this SSRN posting with a part of the latest new edition of the casebook Incarceration and the Law: Cases and Materials.  Here is the abstract:

This posts a table of contents and much of the first chapter to a fully overhauled, updated, and expanded edition of the leading case book on incarceration.  The case book examines the complex legal regime that defines prisoners’ rights. Mass incarceration in America creates a host of controversies at the crossroads of constitutional liberty, legislation, public policy, and prison management.  It considers those issues from diverse perspectives by presenting an array of materials: Supreme Court and leading lower court caselaw, statutes, litigation materials, professional standards, academic commentary, prisoner writing, and more.  (There is also an associated website, http://incarcerationlaw.com, which offers additional open sources, supplementing the book for those who own it and providing a freestanding repository of materials for those who do not.)

Chapter 1 provides background on American jails and prisons (What’s the difference between a jail and a prison?  What is incarceration supposed to accomplish?  How do prison abolitionists conceptualize and justify their goals?  How did American incarceration develop?)  It provides longitudinal and contemporary statistics.  Finally, it offers narrative and case law background on the development of the modern conception of prisoners’ rights.

August 23, 2020 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Via video, Lori Loughlin and her husband get agreed fixed short prison sentences in college admission scandal

Unnamed-2As reported in this CBS News piece, headlined "Lori Loughlin gets 2 months in prison in college admissions scandal. Her husband Mossimo Giannulli will serve 5 months," a high-profile (but low-drama) sentencing took place in federal court yesterday.  Here are the basics:

Actress Lori Loughlin will serve two months in prison and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, will serve five months after the couple pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in the college admissions scandal. A federal judge on Friday accepted plea deals from the famous couple in a video sentencing hearing.

After initially vowing to fight the charges, Loughlin and Giannulli reversed course after a judge denied their motion to dismiss the case in May. Prosecutors said the couple paid $500,000 to secure their daughters' admission to the University of Southern California by masquerading them as fake athletic recruits.

"I made an awful decision. I went along with a plan to give my daughters an unfair advantage in the college admissions process. In doing so, I ignored my intuition and allowed myself to be swayed from my moral compass," Loughlin said in the video call.

Loughlin, 56, will also pay a $150,000 fine, serve 100 hours of community service, and be under supervised release for two years. Giannulli, 57, is required to pay a fine of $250,000, serve 250 hours of community service, and serve two years of supervised release.

Earlier in the day, Giannulli apologized for the harm his decisions caused his family. "I'm ready to accept the consequences and move forward with the lessons I've learned from this experience," he said. Prior to rendering the sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton ripped into Giannulli for committing a "crime motivated by hubris" that is "defined by wanton arrogance and excessive pride."

In addition to really liking the aesthetic of this "courtroom sketch" of this video sentencing, I reprinted the picture here in order to wonder aloud whether the US Sentencing Commission is keeping track of which sentencings are taking place via video these days and which ones are taking place in person.  Because six months into this pandemic the USSC still has not even reported how many sentencings are taking place, I am not especially optimistic the USSC is collecting, or will anytime soon be reporting, special granular data on COVID-era sentencing realities.  But my hope for the USSC springs eternal.

A few prior posts focused on these defendants:

A few of many prior posts on other defendants in college admissions scandal:

August 22, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday, August 10, 2020

What should we make of a "significant decline" in white-collar criminal enforcement during the Trump Administration?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Bloomberg article, headlined "Trump Oversees All-Time Low in White Collar Crime Enforcement," which I find puzzling in many ways.  Here are excerpts:

Donald Trump calls himself the “law and order” president, but when it comes to white collar crime, he has overseen a significant decline in enforcement.  The prosecution of securities fraud, antitrust violations and other such crimes has hit a record low as the pandemic slows the courts, according to one tracking service. But even before the coronavirus, the numbers were falling under the Trump administration.

The average annual number of white collar defendants was down 26% to 30% for Trump’s first three years in office from the average under President Barack Obama, according to data from the Justice Department and Syracuse University, respectively.  The trend also shows up in fines on corporations, which fell 76% from Obama’s last 20 months to Trump’s first 20 months, according to Duke University law professor Brandon Garrett. 

“Mr. Trump sets the tone,” said John Coffee, a professor at Columbia Law School whose new book, “Corporate Crime and Punishment: The Crisis of Underenforcement,” analyzes the decline.  Trump’s Justice Department has even presided over a plunge in deferred-prosecution agreements, Coffee said.  In a DPA, a company is charged with a crime but prosecutors agree to drop the case later if it admits wrongdoing, pays a penalty and makes required reforms.  The administration has also brought fewer white collar racketeering and money-laundering cases, crimes that carry harsher penalties, he said. “All that is an indication that white collar crime is not a priority,” Coffee said....

The Justice Department says it hasn’t eased up at all.  Prosecutors “continue to bring federal charges in white collar and other cases according to facts, the law and the principles of federal prosecution,” said Peter Carr, who was a spokesman for the department’s Criminal Division until moving recently to the Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Justice “can’t vouch for TRAC’s methodology,” Carr said, referring to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which monitors trends in federal law enforcement and whose records reflect a decline of about 30% in prosecutions under Trump....

DOJ spokesman Matt Lloyd said the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, which focuses on white collar crime, “has achieved record numbers of individual and corporate criminal cases and resolutions over the past three years,” including a 59% increase in individuals charged between 2016 and 2019 and a jump of more than a quarter in those convicted.  He didn’t comment specifically on the 26% decline reflected in the data published by the U.S. attorney offices nationwide, which cover a much larger set of white collar prosecutions, but called the Fraud Section’s achievements “a key indicator of the department’s commitment” to the issue.

Prosecutions have been declining for the past decade but have never been so low.  The Justice Department under Trump has shifted its focus from traditional white collar cases, like big securities prosecutions, to immigration and the sort of corporate espionage targeted by the DOJ’s China Initiative, said Robert Anello, a white collar defense lawyer in New York....

The Internal Revenue Service's ... Criminal Investigation division helps send people to prison for crimes such as tax evasion, money laundering and identity theft.  The agency saw a 36% decrease in new criminal investigations from fiscal 2015 to 2019, IRS records show.

One factor in the decline in traditional white collar prosecutions is an important change to what’s known as the Yates memo.  In 2015, under Obama, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates required companies seeking leniency to help develop evidence against their employees and turn over possible suspects.  In 2018, under Trump, the Justice Department softened the criteria. 

So is there an on-going white-collar crime "crisis"?  How would we know?  Why is it that we now see a whole lot of media reporting increases in shootings in urban areas, but we do not see any media looking at possible increases in securities fraud in suburban areas?  I ask these questions not to be cheeky, but rather to note how much more we generally focus upon and tend to better understand "crime in the streets" rather than "crime in the suites."

August 10, 2020 in Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 02, 2020

"Criminal Deterrence: A Review of the Missing Literature"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Alex Raskolnikov and recently posted to SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

This review of the criminal deterrence literature focuses on the questions that are largely missing from many recent, excellent, comprehensive reviews of that literature, and from the literature itself.  By “missing” I mean, first, questions that criminal deterrence scholars have ignored either completely or to a large extent.  These questions range from fundamental (the distributional analysis of the criminal justice system), to those hidden in plain sight (economic analysis of misdemeanors), to those that are well-know yet mostly overlooked (the role of positive incentives, offender’s mental state, and celerity of punishment).  I also use “missing” to refer to the areas where substantial relevant knowledge exists but is largely disregarded within the criminal deterrence research program.  The empirical analysis of environmental and tax compliance are two stark examples.  Finally, I stretch “missing” to describe topics that have been both studied and reviewed, but where substantial challenges remain.  These include the theoretical explanation for the role of offense history, the proper accounting for the offender’s gains, the estimation of the costs of various crimes, and the cost-benefit analysis of crime-reduction policies.

Among the literature’s missing pieces, several stand out both on their own and because they combine to produce a highly unfortunate result.  First, the literature makes only a minor effort to estimate the cost of crime, and essentially no effort to estimate the cost of white-collar offenses.  Combined with no centralized reporting of white-collar crimes and, therefore, no empirical analysis of them, the literature adds to the impression — not supported by the available evidence — that street crime is a great social problem while white-collar crime is a minor one.  Second, the literature fails to treat misdemeanors (and misdemeanor enforcement) as an independent subject of study.  This creates an impression — also unjustified — that thirteen million or so misdemeanor charges a year — and countless millions of stops, frisks, and interrogations that lead to no charges — all heavily skewed by race and class — are not a major social problem either. Third, the literature is only starting to develop a benefit-cost analysis of various crime-reducing strategies.  This analysis almost exclusively considers measures reflected in the optimal deterrence model and, therefore, internal to the criminal justice system.  This creates an impression — almost surely false — that deterrence is the only means of reducing future crime. Finally, the literature ignores distributional analysis altogether, even though the burdens of crime and the criminal justice system vary dramatically, predictably, and disturbingly by race and income.  By disregarding this variation, the literature may be reinforcing it. 

For all these reasons, the criminal deterrence literature may well be contributing to the overwhelming, singular focus of American society and law enforcement on the forceful deterrence of street crime. Addressing the missing pieces would enrich the literature, expand its appeal and policy-relevance, and enable academics to contribute to the effort of setting the US criminal justice system on the path of long-overdue structural reforms.

August 2, 2020 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Federal judge rules Michael Cohen must be released back into home confinement

As reported in this CNBC piece, a "federal judge on Thursday ordered the release from prison of President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen by Friday afternoon."  Here is why:

Judge Alvin Hellerstein found that Cohen was sent back to prison on July 10 in retaliation for failing to agree a day earlier to not to publish a book about Trump as one of multiple conditions for serving the remainder of his three-year prison term on home confinement.  Cohen had been furloughed from prison in late May due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.  Shortly before being taken into custody he had been posting on social media about his upcoming book, which is going to be critical of Trump.

“I’ve never seen such a clause, in 21 years in being a judge,” Hellerstein said at a Manhattan federal court hearing, where he questioned the condition that Cohen not publish a book while in home confinement.  “How can I take any other inference but that it was retaliatory? “the judge asked at the hearing, which was held in response to Cohen suing to win his re-release from prison.

During the hearing, the judge was highly skeptical to arguments by a federal prosecutor that Cohen was not locked up in retaliation for the book, or that the condition of not writing a book was not sought for a specific reason.  At one point, when another prosecutor tried to come to the aid of the prosecutor who was answering the judge’s questions, Hellerstein angrily cut him off, reminding him of the rule that only one lawyer argued for each side in a case.

Cohen, who has been in quarantine in the prison in Otisville, N.Y., since his arrival there, will be released by 2 p.m. after begin tested for the coronavirus, and will be driven back to his home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side by his son, Hellerstein said. After his release into home confinement, he will be subject to a number of restrictions on his movement and employment and contact with other people.  But the restriction sought by federal Probation officials that he not speak to reporters, post on social media, or publish a book, is likely to be largely gutted.

Cohen’s lawyer and a prosecutor will in coming days negotiate the issue of any restrictions on Cohen dealing with the media.  Hellerstein suggested it would be inappropriate for Cohen to host a press conference in his apartment with a large number of reporters to discus his book while at the same time still serving his criminal sentence....

Hellerstein noted that court filings by both prosecutors and Cohen’s lawyers agree on a key point: that Cohen and his lawyer, after taking issue with at least one of the conditions, about the book, were left in a room along at some time by a Probation officer, and then confronted by Bureau of Prison officials who arrived to take him into custody.  Hellerstein also repeatedly said that Probation officials had not given Cohen a warning that if he did not agree to all the conditions presented to him at a July 9 meeting with his lawyer that he would be sent back to prison.  “Mr. Cohen was never given a chance to say, ‘If this is it, I will sign,’ ” Hellerstein said.

Prior Michael Cohen posts:

July 23, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Some notable federal prison comings and goings for high-profile political figures

A (re)sentencing yesterday of a high-profile New York state politician led me to notice a few more stories concerning the ins and outs of federal prison for some notable political figures. Here are headlines, links and a taste of the stories:

Via the New York Post, "Sheldon Silver sentenced to more than 6 years in prison for bribery scheme":

Crooked Albany power broker Sheldon Silver will finally go to prison for his crimes — but not for another month, a judge ruled Monday as she sentenced the former Assembly speaker to 6 1/2 years in federal prison, nearly five years after he was first convicted of corruption.  Judge Valerie Caproni handed down the sentence Monday afternoon in front of Silver, 76, who was ordered to appear in person in the courtroom despite an effort by his lawyers to hold the hearing remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic. “This was corruption pure and simple,” Judge Caproni told the disgraced ex-speaker of the New York state Assembly, whom she had already sentenced twice. “The time, however, has now come for Mr. Silver to pay the piper,” she said before delivering the 78-month sentence and a $1 million fine, which the ruined kingmaker received with a blank expression.

Via the Philadelphia Inquirer, "Former Philly U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah came home early from prison. Federal officials won’t say why.":

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons has accomplished what former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah could not in two appeals.  It sprang the disgraced pol early from lockup. A bureau spokesperson confirms that Fattah, a Philadelphia Democrat sentenced in 2016 to 10 years on corruption charges, returned to the city June 8 from a federal prison near Scranton and will serve the rest of his sentence either in a halfway house or under house arrest. But the bureau refused to say why the former congressman had been released more than five years before the scheduled 2025 date.

Via NBC News, "ACLU, law firm sue to get Michael Cohen released, saying he was sent back to prison over book":

The American Civil Liberties Union and a law firm on Monday filed a legal challenge to the recent imprisonment of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney.  The groups argue that Cohen was sent back to prison this month after being released on home confinement in retaliation for his plans to release a negative book about Trump before the November election.  "He is being held in retaliation for his protected speech, including drafting a book manuscript that is critical of the President — and recently making public his intention to publish that book soon, shortly before the upcoming election," lawyers on behalf of Cohen wrote in Monday's lawsuit.

July 21, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Tongues wagging about Prez Trump using his clemency pen to grant compassionate release to Roger Stone

Unsurprisingly, lots and lots of folks have lots and lots to say about Prez Trump's decision late Friday to commute the prison sentence of Roger Stone (basics covered here).  I will start this post with two quick points and then round up below some of the other copious commentary already making the rounds.

1. Now do more, Mr. Prez: I am pleased Prez Trump has finally delivered, at least for an old friend with dirt on him, on his promise back in March to look at freeing elderly "totally nonviolent" offenders from federal prisons amid the COVID pandemic.  I am being cheeky here, of course, but meaning to make a serious point: the Stone commutation bothers me far less than Prez Trump's failure to use his clemency powers far more — both before and especially since the coronavirus crisis — to release the many federal prisoners who, like Stone, are older, medically vulnerable and present no clear risk to public safety. 

Back in February 2020, Prez Trump coupled some high-profile clemency grants with commutations to three women of color with no political connections (details here).  I sure wish Prez Trump and key advisers — Kushner?  Kushner?  Kushner? — had tried to couple the Stone commutation with clemency relief for just a few other older federal prisoners whose incarceration may prove deadly and serves little public safety purpose.  But it is not too late to make up for lost time: now do more comparable commutations, Mr. Prez!

2. Now do even more, federal judges: As the title of this post is meant to suggest, the Stone clemency strikes me as another form of compassionate release.  The official statement announcing the commutation made much of an "improper investigation," of "overzealous prosecutors" and of "serious questions about the jury" while also stressing that "Mr. Stone would be put at serious medical risk in prison" and that "Roger Stone has already suffered greatly."  These comments suggest Prez Trump concluded, in the words of 18 USC § 3582(c)(1)(A), that there were "extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant[ing] a reduction" in Stone's prison sentence and that such a reduction was consistent with 3553(a)'s purposes of punishment. 

Thanks to the FIRST STEP Act, judges now have authority to grant comparable sentence reductions, and district judges have granted hundreds of compassionate release motions in response to the COVID crisis.  But thousands of compassionate release requests have been denied, many coming from prisoners who are likely even more vulnerable and even more sympathetic than Stone.  In more than a few cases, I have seen judges indicate considerable sympathy for the plight of a vulnerable older inmate, only to refuse release because the movant had not yet served enough time in prison.  But Roger Stone did not serve any prison time, and yet Prez Trump was still moved by his "medical risk" and by the fact he had "already suffered greatly" even before serving a single day in federal prison.  So this commutation should also be a message to federal judges: do more comparable compassionate releases, even if vulnerable offenders have served little or even no prison time.

I could go on, but rather than continue my tongue wagging about the Stone commutation, I will conclude here with a round-up of just a few other notable takes:

From Robert Mueller, "Roger Stone remains a convicted felon, and rightly so."

From Politico, "'Historic corruption': 2 Republican senators denounce Trump's commutation of Stone"

From Brett Tollman and Arthur Rizer, "Romney wrong to attack Trump commutation of Roger Stone prison sentence"

From Jack Goldsmith and Matt Gluck, "Trump’s Aberrant Pardons and Commutations"

From Jonathan Turley, "Why this Roger Stone commutation is not as controversial as some think"

From Jeffrey Tobin, "The Roger Stone Case Shows Why Trump Is Worse Than Nixon"

July 12, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Clemency and Pardons, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Is Prez Trump trying to convince himself to have the guts to pardon Roger Stone?

The question in the title of this post was my first thought upon seeing this news piece headlined "Trump tweet fuels speculation of Stone pardon: The tweet came after a judge ruled Stone would report to prison in July."  Here are the details:

President Donald Trump further fueled speculation Saturday morning that he plans to pardon longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone.

After a judge on Friday gave Stone a surrender date of July 14 -- he had sought to report to the Georgia prison on Sept. 3 -- Trump tweeted a story about a petition for the president to pardon Stone as he faces a sentence of 40 months for lying to Congress and misleading investigators on several key elements of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

On Saturday, Trump retweeted a message saying "IT’S TIME TO #PardonRogerStone"

This is not the first time a Trump tweet has raised the prospect of a Stone pardon.  Earlier this month, on June 4, the president tweeted that "Roger was a victim of a corrupt and illegal Witch Hunt, one which will go down as the greatest political crime in history.  He can sleep well at night!"

With Stone now seemingly having a hard prison report date in three weeks, Prez Trump is going to have to make a clemency decision sooner rather than later. If Prez Trump is really eager to keep Stone out of prison, I hope he might at least looks to include Stone with some additional meritorious clemency grants as he did back in February when commuted the sentences of sentences of three women along with Rod Blagojevich.

Prior related posts:

June 27, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Clemency and Pardons, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 05, 2020

Bernie Madoff denied federal sentence reduction, but many others receive relief under § 3582(c)(1)(A) on same day

As reported in this Courthouse News Service report, a high-profile federal white-collar prisoners was denied compassionate release yesterday afternoon.  Here are the basics (and a link to the opinion):

Bernie Madoff’s terminal illness will not alter a federal judge’s ruling from just more than a decade ago: The man behind an “extraordinarily evil” Ponzi scheme will die in prison.

“When I sentenced Mr. Madoff in 2009, it was fully my intent that he live out the rest of his life in prison,” Judge Denny Chin, who dealt Madoff’s 150-year sentence before being appointed to the Second Circuit, wrote on Thursday. “His lawyers asked then for a sentence of 12 to 15 to 20 years, specifically with the hope that Mr. Madoff would live to see ‘the light of day.’ I was not persuaded; I did not believe that Mr. Madoff was deserving of that hope. Nothing has happened in the 11 years since to change my thinking."... 

Madoff’s attorney Brandon Sample said his client suffers from end-stage renal disease and other conditions that give him less than 18 months to live.  “Judge Chin recognized today that Madoff’s health is in serious decline and that he is, in fact, terminally ill,” Sample wrote. “Nonetheless, Judge Chin essentially found that because of the nature of Madoff’s crimes — Madoff is beyond redemption. We are disappointed with Judge Chin’s refusal to grant Madoff any compassion.”

The financial criminal will seek clemency from President Donald Trump. “We implore the president to personally consider Madoff’s rapidly declining health,” Sample added....

Letters opposing Madoff’s release showed that [negative victim] sentiment has not ebbed. Prosecutors said that more than 500 victims opposed his release, and only 20 wrote in support.  “I also agree that at age 81, with his declining physical condition, Mr. Madoff probably does not pose a danger to any person or the community,” Chin wrote. “But as the recent victim letters show, many people are still suffering from Mr. Madoff’s actions. I also believe that Mr. Madoff was never truly remorseful, and that he was only sorry that his life as he knew it was collapsing around him. Even at the end, he was trying to send more millions of his ill-gotten gains to family members, friends, and certain employees.”

Madoff is confined to the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, which — like many prisons throughout the country — is grappling with the coronavirus.  Neither Madoff’s request nor the ruling mentions the pandemic.

While this 16-page opinion from Judge Chin does not mention COVID, a whole lot of other compassionate release rulings handed down yesterday did.  I figured here it might be useful to highlight a number of the positive rulings from just the same day as this Madoff denial that already appear on Westlaw (and this weekend I will try to compile the more extended list of  positive § 3582(c)(1)(A) rulings from other days):

United States v. McKinney, No. 18-CR-6035L, 2020 WL 2958228 (WDNY June 4, 2020)

United States v. McCall, No. 2:18cr95-MHT, 2020 WL 2992197 (MD Ala. June 4, 2020)

United States v. Burke, No. 4:17-CR-3089, 2020 WL 3000330 (D Neb. June 4, 2020)

United States v. Green, No. TDC-10-0761, 2020 WL 2992855 (D Md. June 4, 2020)

United States v. Rivera-Amaro, No. 1:18-CR-00183 EAW, 2020 WL 3000392 (WDNY June 4, 2020)

I am pretty confident that this list of grants are not all of those that will show up on Westlaw eventually, and I am even more certain that there were a number of federal sentence reductions granted under § 3582(c)(1)(A) yesterday that will not ever show up on Westlaw.  In other words, while high-profile cases like Bernie Madoff will garner headlines, an ever-growing number of federal defendants are garnering sentence reductions thanks to the FIRST STEP Act.

June 5, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Donald Trump hinting that he will use his clemency powers on behalf of Roger Stone

Last week, as reported here, "Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Sue Allison told The Associated Press that [Roger] Stone is supposed to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons by June 30" to begin serving his 40-month federal prison sentence.  But, as this new article highlights, a tweet by President Trump this morning suggest that the Prez plans to make sure Stone never has to sleep at a prison facility:

President Donald Trump on Thursday promised his longtime informal political adviser Roger Stone would not serve time in prison, revealing the convicted Republican provocateur “can sleep well at night” and reprising his fiery criticisms of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

The pledge from the president came on Twitter, after Charlie Kirk, the founder of the conservative group Turning Point USA, wrote Tuesday that Stone “will serve more time in prison than 99% of these rioters destroying America” — referring to the ongoing nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, by a Minneapolis police officer.  “This isn’t justice,” Kirk added. “RT for a full pardon of Roger Stone!”

Trump went on to share that tweet Thursday morning, writing in his own accompanying message: “No.  Roger was a victim of a corrupt and illegal Witch Hunt, one which will go down as the greatest political crime in history.  He can sleep well at night!”

The president’s social media post represents his latest intervention in Stone’s case and comes after Trump and Attorney General William Barr were widely rebuked by congressional Democrats and career Justice Department officials for involving themselves in the federal law enforcement matter just a few months ago.

Federal prosecutors had urged in February that Stone be sent to prison for roughly seven to nine years for impeding congressional and FBI investigations into connections between the Russian government and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

But after Trump blasted the prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation in a tweet as a “horrible and very unfair situation,” the Justice Department submitted a revised filing that offered no specific term for Stone’s sentence and stated that the prosecutors’ initial proposal “could be considered excessive and unwarranted.” The four attorneys who shepherded Stone’s prosecution proceeded either to resign or notify the court that they were stepping off the case.

I have long been assuming (as some prior posts below reveal) that Prez Trump will use his clemency pen to keep Stone from serving prison time.  But I have also long been wondering what form of clemency Prez Trump might use.  He could provide Stone with a full pardon, of course, which would wipe away the conviction and all its consequences.  But he also could just commute his prison sentence (which, folks may recall, is what George W. Bush did for Scooter Libby).  Or, perhaps least controversially, Prez Trump could simply use his clemency power to order Sone's prison sentence to be served through home confinement (which, folks should realize, is comparable to what's happening for a number of federal prisoners in response to COVID-19 concerns).

Prior related posts:

June 4, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Clemency and Pardons, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Michael Cohen reportedly really getting released to home confinement now

According to this new AP piece, "President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen will be released from federal prison Thursday and is expected to serve the remainder of his sentence at home, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press."  Here is more:

Cohen has been serving a federal prison sentence at FCI Otisville in New York after pleading guilty to numerous charges, including campaign finance fraud and lying to Congress.

He will be released on furlough with the expectation that he will transition to home confinement to serve the remainder of his sentence at home, the person said.  Cohen, 53, began serving his sentence last May and was scheduled to be released from prison in November 2021....

Attorney General William Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons in March and April to increase the use of home confinement and expedite the release of eligible high-risk inmates, beginning at three prisons identified as coronavirus hot spots. Otisville is not one of those facilities.

Cohen was told last month he would be released to serve the rest of his three-year sentence at home in response to concerns about coronavirus. He had told associates he was expecting to be released earlier this month.

The Bureau of Prisons has placed him on furlough as it continues to process a move to home confinement, the person familiar with the matter said.  The agency has the authority to release inmates on furlough for up to 30 days and has been doing so to make sure suitable inmates, who are expected to transition to home confinement, can be moved out of correctional facilities sooner, the person said.

Prior Michael Cohen posts:

May 20, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 07, 2020

SCOTUS unanimously reverses "Bridgegate" convictions as involving conduct not covered by federal property fraud statute

The US Supreme Court handed down a unanimous opinion this morning in Kelly v. United States, No. 18-1059 (S. Ct. May 7, 2020)  (available here), the high-profile political fraud case often called "Bridgegate."  Here is how Justice Kagan's short opinion for the full Court gets started:

For four days in September 2013, traffic ground to a halt in Fort Lee, New Jersey.  The cause was an unannounced realignment of 12 toll lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge, an entryway into Manhattan administered by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.  For decades, three of those access lanes had been reserved during morning rush hour for commuters coming from the streets of Fort Lee. But on these four days — with predictable consequences — only a single lane was set aside.  The public officials who ordered that change claimed they were reducing the number of dedicated lanes to conduct a traffic study.  In fact, they did so for a political reason — to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for refusing to support the New Jersey Governor’s reelection bid.

Exposure of their behavior led to the criminal convictions we review here. The Government charged the responsible officials under the federal statutes prohibiting wire fraud and fraud on a federally funded program or entity.  See 18 U.S.C. §§1343, 666(a)(1)(A). Both those laws target fraudulent schemes for obtaining property.  See §1343 (barring fraudulent schemes “for obtaining money or property”); §666(a)(1)(A) (making it a crime to “obtain[] by fraud . . . property”).  The jury convicted the defendants, and the lower courts upheld the verdicts.

The question presented is whether the defendants committed property fraud.  The evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing — deception, corruption, abuse of power. But the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct.  Under settled precedent, the officials could violate those laws only if an object of their dishonesty was to obtain the Port Authority’s money or property.  The Government contends it was, because the officials sought both to “commandeer” the Bridge’s access lanes and to divert the wage labor of the Port Authority employees used in that effort.  Tr. of Oral Arg. 58.  We disagree.  The realignment of the toll lanes was an exercise of regulatory power — something this Court has already held fails to meet the statutes’ property requirement.  And the employees’ labor was just the incidental cost of that regulation, rather than itself an object of the officials’ scheme.  We therefore reverse the convictions.

Some prior related posts:

May 7, 2020 in Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 20, 2020

US Senator Kennedy writes to AG Barr to urge him to "deny any request for early release" to certain notable fraudsters

As reported in this Hill piece, "Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) called for Ponzi scheme architects who targeted the elderly, such as Bernie Madoff or Robert Allen Stanford, to remain in jail as some prisoners are being released because of coronavirus fears." Here is more:

In a letter to Attorney General William Barr, Kennedy requested the Federal Bureau of Prisons consider the “financial, emotional and physical devastation” prisoners have caused before permitting their early release. The attorney general had instructed the bureau to consider releasing nonviolent criminals who are at a higher risk of contracting the virus because of age or pre-existing medical conditions. “Releasing either of these individuals, or anyone similarly situated, would be an affront to those affected by their evil schemes, and a complete failure in the administration of justice,” Kennedy said in his letter.

Allen Stanford was convicted in 2012 of 13 felony counts and sentenced to 110 years for running a scheme that impacted 18,000 people. Kennedy wrote that he expects the 70-year-old to apply for early release. Madoff, 81, who ran an even larger investment-fraud scheme than Allen Stanford, has pre-existing health issues and has already requested early release.

“Our efforts should be focused on protecting those who protected us; our parents, grandparents, and military veterans who led crime-free lives,” Kennedy added. “Criminals such as Stanford and Madoff who preyed on the elderly should be the last ones to benefit from the change in circumstances COVID-19 has caused.”

The Louisiana senator also requested the Federal Bureau of Prisons publish information about inmates who are released, including their name, last known address, the prison they were released from, their age and their offense. He also called on state attorneys general to publish the same information.

The two-page letter from Senator Kennedy to AG Barr is available at this link. I find it quite interesting that (a) no other Senators signed on this this letter (though I do not know if others were asked, and (b) that Senator Kennedy decided to focus on this letter on big-time fraudsters like Madoff and Stanford without making mention of any other types of offenders like terrorists or murderers.

April 20, 2020 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Wondering again about pace and number of federal sentencings after another Varsity Blues defendant gets imprisonment term

This AP article, headlined "Mother Sentenced to 7 Months in College Admissions Scam," reports on the high-profile federal sentencing that went forward in Boston by video conference yesterday.  Here are the basics:

A California woman was sentenced Tuesday to seven months in prison for paying bribes to rig her two daughters' college admissions exams and get one of them into Georgetown University as a fake tennis recruit.

In an unusual hearing held via videoconference due to the coronavirus pandemic, the judge rejected Elizabeth Henriquez's bid to avoid prison because of the public health crisis but is allowing her to remain free until at least June 30 in the hopes that the outbreak will have diminished by then. “I have every hope that the coronavirus crisis will abate in a matter of months and that Ms. Henriquez will be able to serve her sentence safely and rebuild her life,” U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton said.

Henriquez and her husband were charged with paying $400,000 in bribes to get their oldest daughter into Georgetown as a bogus tennis recruit in 2016. They also paid bribes to have someone cheat on their daughters' college entrance exams, authorities said. In one instance, the purported proctor sat next to her daughter while she took a test and fed her the answers and then “gloated” with Henriquez and the teen about how they had cheated and gotten away with it, authorities said....

Her husband, Manuel Henriquez, is the founder and former CEO of Hercules Capital, a finance firm in Palo Alto, California. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 8.

Her lawyers had urged the judge to give her home confinement, citing a memo written by Attorney General William Barr who said some nonviolent inmates who are particularly at risk to the virus may be safer at home than behind bars....

Henriquez was sentenced via videoconference to keep people from gathering at the federal courthouse in Boston amid the pandemic. The judge talked to Henriquez and lawyers over video chat while news media and other members of the public listened on the phone. The Boston court and halls of justice across the country have delayed jury trials and moved to video and telephone hearings to keep the criminal justice system moving while people are hunkered in their homes.

Prosecutors had argued in court documents that she deserved more than two years behind bars. Gorton ordered Henriquez to begin serving her prison sentence on June 30 but said he would consider a request to push that back further if necessary.

As I mentioned here a few weeks ago, under normal circumstances 300 federal sentences are imposed every work day, 1500 federal sentences are imposed every work week, 6200 federal sentences are imposed every month in US courts nationwide.  Clearly, some number of federal sentencings are going forward, but I am so very eager to know how many.  I am hoping that before too long, the US Sentencing Commission or the Justice Department will try to provide some real-time data on the administration of federal criminal justice amidst the COVID crisis.

A few prior recent related posts:

April 1, 2020 in Data on sentencing, Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Federal prosecutors and hundred of victims write in opposition to Bernie Madoff's compassionate release motion

Last month, as noted in this post, Bernie Madoff filed a motion for compassionate release thanks to a provision of federal law modified by the FIRST STEP Act.  This week, filings in response came from federal prosecutors.  This USA Today piece has the filing and reports on it  starting this way:

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday night objected to Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernard Madoff's bid for release from prison, arguing that the reviled and ailing ex-financier should continue serving his 150-year sentence.

Charging that the 81-year-old convict who ran one of history's biggest scams has "demonstrated a wholesale lack of understanding of the seriousness of his crimes and a lack of compassion for his victims," the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York urged a judge to keep him in prison.

"Madoff's crimes were 'extraordinarily evil.' His sentence was appropriately long. It should not be reduced," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Drew Skinner and Louis Pellegrino wrote in the filing to U.S. Circuit Court Judge Denny Chin, who sentenced Madoff more than a decade ago.

I think the first paragraph of the filing is effective:

The Government respectfully submits this memorandum of law in opposition to defendant Bernard L. Madoff’s request for 92% reduction in his sentence.  The nature of Madoff’s crime — unprecedented in scope and magnitude — wholly justified the 150-year sentence this Court imposed and is by itself a sufficient reason to deny Madoff’s motion.  Furthermore, since his sentencing, Madoff has demonstrated a wholesale lack of understanding of the seriousness of his crimes and a lack of compassion for his victims, underscoring that he is undeserving of compassionate release himself.  Finally, the Section 3553(a) factors weigh heavily against his release.

This CNBC piece report on some of the victim letters opposing Madoff's motion. Here is how this article gets started:

Hundreds of victims of Ponzi scheme kingpin Bernie Madoff really don’t want him to get out of prison despite his claim that he is dying. They recently told a judge their reasons in often-heartbreaking letters.

“Our lives, and not just financially, also emotionally, mentally, and physically . . . were Destroyed,” wrote one victim, who noted that her husband lost $850,000 to Madoff.

Another woman wrote, “I lost all my money and my husband of 40 years committed suicide because of his horrific crimes. As far as I am concerned, he should spend the rest of his life in jail,” she wrote to Judge Denny Chin in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Releasing Maddoff, a third victim told Chin, “would be to put another knife in the hearts of his victims.”

Those three letters are among the approximately 520 that Madoff victims sent Chin on the heels of Madoff’s court filing last month seeking early release from his 150-year prison sentence because he has terminal kidney disease.

Prior related posts:

March 5, 2020 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 01, 2020

"The Criminal History of Federal Economic Crime Offenders"

The title of this post is the title of this new report released late last week by the US Sentencing Commission.  Here is a basic summary and key findings from this USSC webpage:

Summary

For the first time, this report provides in-depth criminal history information about federal economic crime offenders, combining the most recently available data from two United States Sentencing Commission projects.

Key Findings
  • The application of guideline criminal history provisions differed among the different types of economic crime offenders.
  • The extent of prior convictions differed among the different types of economic crime offenders.
    • About half of all federal economic crime offenders had at least one prior conviction in their criminal history.
    • Prior convictions were most common among counterfeit and forgery (71.1%), identity theft (70.4%), credit card fraud (68.7%), and financial institution fraud (68.6%) offenders.
    • Prior convictions were least common among computer-related (29.6%) and government procurement (25.4%) fraud offenders.
  • Federal economic crime offenders did not “specialize” in economic crime.
    • Convictions for prior economic offenses were not the predominant types of prior convictions. 
    • Fourteen percent of federal economic crime offenders had convictions for prior economic offenses only, to the exclusion of other types of convictions. 
    • Convictions for prior “other” offenses, such as DUI and public order, were the predominant types of prior convictions.
  • The severity of criminal history differed for offenders in the specific types of economic crime.
    • Financial institution fraud, credit card fraud, identity theft, mail-related fraud, and counterfeit and forgery offenders had relatively serious criminal histories compared to other economic crime offenders.
    • Government procurement and computer-related fraud offenders had comparatively less serious criminal histories compared to other economic crime offenders.
  • Only about one-quarter of federal economic crime offenders with prior convictions were not assigned criminal history points under the guidelines.

March 1, 2020 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Is Prez Trump legally unable to grant clemency to Roger Stone?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Politico Magazine piece by Corey Brettschneider headlined "Why President Trump Can’t Pardon Roger Stone."  Here are excerpts:

Speculation that President Donald Trump might pardon Roger Stone has reached a fever pitch after Stone’s sentencing by a federal judge and the president’s repeated hints that he thinks the verdict unfair.  But fortunately, the Constitution’s framers imagined this nightmare scenario — a suspected criminal president pardoning a co-conspirator — and they put in the Constitution language to legally prohibit the pardon power in exactly this kind of case.

Both the plain meaning of the Constitution’s text and the historical evidence show that once a president has been impeached, he or she loses the power to pardon anyone for criminal offenses connected to the articles of impeachment — and that even after the Senate’s failure to convict the president, he or she does not regain this power.

Under Article II, Section II of the Constitution, the president is given the “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”  Pardons are supposed to be used as acts of mercy.  The framers thought of the pardon power as a “benign prerogative”—prerogative because it was mostly unchecked by courts or Congress, but benign because presidents would use it for the public good.

But the framers knew not to place blind trust in the president to wield the power justly. That’s why they explicitly forbade a president from exercising the pardon power in “cases of impeachment.”  The clause prevents the worst abuse of the pardon power: a president’s protecting cronies who have been convicted of crimes related to the president’s own wrongdoing....

The limit on pardons for co-conspirators wouldn’t affect many of the president’s pardons. Pardoning convicted criminals like former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich might be ill-advised, but it is still permitted.  By contrast, pardoning longtime adviser Roger Stone would not be permitted, as his crimes relate directly to the impeachment case....

Inevitably, some will argue that an impeached president should regain the power to grant clemency to his alleged co-conspirators in cases of acquittal by the Senate.  That ignores not only the framers’ clear intent, but also the plain text of the Constitution.

The framers deliberately used the phrase “cases of impeachment,” not “conviction.” One reason why is simple: A president convicted by the Senate would be removed from office, and thus unable to pardon anyone. As such, there would be no reason for the Constitution to curb a convicted president’s pardon power. No exception to the pardon power needs to be granted, because no such power exists.

Moreover, the framers provided no explicit avenue for him to regain the power they took away after a House impeachment vote.  Time limits are common in the Constitution—think of the president’s four-year term — and the absence of one connected to the pardon power suggests that the power is not in fact lost for a limited duration.  In the absence of an explicit reinstatement of pardon power in the text, the strong presumption has to be that it is still lost.

I am generally chary about any efforts to place novel limits on clemency powers, but this commentary is making an interesting textualist and originalist-based claim here. In the end, I think political interest, not legal concerns, will shape how Prez Trump uses his clemency power here (and elsewhere). But if Prez Trump does give some form of clemency to Stone, we now can see the terms of inevitable legal challenges to that effort.

Prior related posts:

February 27, 2020 in Clemency and Pardons, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

"Madoff Wants Leniency. My Dad Received None. Why should the Ponzi scheme king get out to die, when the judges imprisoned my father with just weeks to live?""

The title of this post is the full headline of this notable new Bloomberg Opinion commentary in which Ian Fisher reflects, in a personal way, on compassion and compassionate release.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

I cannot remember the name of the chaplain who called from the Butner correctional facility, perhaps the nation’s premier federal prison for sick white-collar prisoners. But he was a pro.  He talked slowly, in gentle circles about how my father had been very ill and how they did their best.  This verbal shuffling was all so I could figure out before the chaplain said the actual word that my father, Albert Ernest Fisher III, was dead. He was 78.

So it hit me with unexpected emotion, complicated now as a financial journalist, when I read that Bernie Madoff, 81, my father’s Butner prisonmate, is asking for compassionate release. He says he is dying.  I use “he says” as journalistic distancing and to signal that it may not be wise to believe everything that the engineer of the world’s biggest Ponzi scheme tells you....

After Madoff’s request, I’ve learned that the penal system is trending toward compassion — as well as a more hard-headed desire to unclog prisons and work toward fairness in drug sentencing.  The 2018 First Step Act, passed too late for my father, allows judges more flexibility to release federal prisoners. So when Bernard Ebbers, sent to prison for 25 years for $11 billion in accounting fraud, asked for compassionate release last year, it hardly raised a stir.  He was let out in December and died at home in Mississippi on Feb. 2, just around the time Madoff made his own request.

Still, when your own family life collides with larger forces embodied in First Step, the feelings are less abstract.  My dad was not in Madoff’s league, but there are parallels.  Both ran Ponzi schemes.  The crimes of each caused real damage, from life savings vaporized to student funds for room and board squandered in Bermuda and Neiman Marcus.  Neither was a violent threat to society, but the actions of each incurred a debt to it.  Those actions cost, in explicit ways....

My immediate reaction to Madoff’s request was a personal one: Why should he get out to die, when the judges imprisoned my father with just weeks to live? Madoff’s lawyers say he has maybe 18 months left in him. He’s been in prison nearly 11 years.

I don’t wish to be cruel. I wince seeing the terminally ill suffer in jail, my dad, Madoff or anyone else.  First Step seems like a reasonable attempt at reducing mass incarceration in the United States — case by case, on their merits, under specific guidelines.

But Madoff’s request has unexpectedly forced me to face something basic about being a citizen: Can you live with what you think is abstractly good even if is not good for you personally?  In my case, can I say it’s fine that Madoff may get to die freely when my father could not — even if I believe that people like him should be shown compassion?

Honestly, it’s not going down very well.  To me, Madoff is not a matter of public policy, brushing prison shoulders with my father: a better criminal, richer and more famous, who could glide free simply because times have changed.

Prior related posts:

February 26, 2020 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Offense Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 17, 2020

Spirited (but problematic?) advocacy for Bernie Madoff to receive compassionate relief

The New York Times has this notable new opinion piece authored by headlined "Let Bernie Madoff, and Many More, Out of Prison: Compassionate release has to apply to unsympathetic prisoners, if we mean what we say about ending mass incarceration."  I think the spirit of this piece is quite sound, but I am not entirely sold on all of its particulars.  Here are excerpts (with a few lines emphasized for comments to follow):

Recently, Mr. Madoff re-entered the news, as he filed for compassionate release from federal prison.  He is entering the final stages of kidney disease and has less than 18 months to live. The Bureau of Prisons denied his petition, as it does to 94 percent of those filed by incarcerated people.  But the reforms provided in the First Step Act of 2018 allow him to file an appeal with the sentencing court.

Even some who claim to detest the ravages of mass incarceration argue that Mr. Madoff should be denied compassionate release.  He is as close to the financial equivalent of a serial killer as one might encounter.  Still, there is a good argument to be made for compassionate release.  It has little to do with Bernie Madoff, though, and how we feel about his horrendous actions.

If our societal goal is to reduce incarceration, we are going to have to confront the inconvenient truth that retribution cannot be our only penological aim, and justice for victims has to be much more extensive than the incarceration of those who have caused them harm.  We desperately need to shift our cultural impulse to punish harshly and degradingly, and for long periods.

The visceral, retributive reactions to Mr. Madoff’s petition, including from liberals who claim to want to end mass incarceration, reveal the obstacles to transformational criminal justice reform.  The truth is, there is only a small number of entirely “sympathetic” people in prisons who could be released without any scruples by the public or affront to their victims.  Those incarcerated for violent offenses compose a vast majority of our prison population, in spite of a false narrative that most people are in there for nonviolent drug offenses.  The pain and harm experienced by their victims is real, and that’s also true for Mr. Madoff’s victims.  But criminal justice policy cannot be constructed in response to our feelings about individual, high-profile cases — the so-called worst of the worst. 

This “worst of the worst” argument, for example, has long undergirded the death penalty, which still stands in 30 states despite its racial and class biases and other flaws that have led hundreds of innocent people to death row.  It is also part of why the Democratic presidential candidates, with the exception of Bernie Sanders, don’t support the enfranchisement of those in prison.  But creating a separate category for Mr. Madoff, sex offenders or those “others” in the criminal justice system will not help end mass incarceration.  There will always be another high-profile case that can impede the implementation of more humane policies.

Those on the left who press for criminal justice reform emphasize “empathy” in their attempts to reframe the conversation about people who have committed crimes. Conservatives use the word “redemption.”  These words carry a profound responsibility: What do they mean for sympathetic and unsympathetic prisoners?  There are 200,000 people over the age of 55 incarcerated in the United States.  The question of compassionate release for Mr. Madoff affects not only him but these others and their victims as well.

Mr. Madoff lost both his sons while incarcerated (one died of cancer) and was unable to attend their funerals; is a social pariah, almost universally condemned; and has spent 11 years in federal prison.  This is not to say he deserves sympathy, but he has been punished.  In Norway, where Anders Breivik was sentenced to 21 years in prison for a horrific mass murder, 11 years would be considered harsh enough.  Our American punitiveness has distorted our sense of what is an adequate sentence for serious offenses.

When considering compassionate release, we also have to ask: Has the person been rehabilitated?  Does the punishment serve legitimate penological objectives (like deterrence and public safety) other than retribution?  (Something to consider, for instance: The number of Ponzi schemes prosecuted went up, not down after Mr. Madoff’s incarceration.)

Criminal justice reform will fall far short of the dramatic institutional changes needed if the dominant impulse continues to be retribution, and if high-profile cases continue to drive policy.  Compassionate release for those who are aging, terminally ill and dying should be assumed after they’ve served at least 10 years.  It was the offenders’ worst impulses that led them to commit their crimes.  Our justice system should appeal to our higher ethical ambitions.

I agree fully that "retribution cannot be our only penological aim, and justice for victims has to be much more extensive than the incarceration of those who have caused them harm." I also agree fully that criminal justice policy should not "be constructed in response to our feelings about individual, high-profile cases — the so-called worst of the worst" and that we should be troubled if "high-profile cases continue to drive policy." And whether a person has been rehabilitated also seem to me to be an important consideration here.  But I am not sure granting compassionate relief to Bernie Madoff furthers these interests, and I worry it could undermine them.

For starters, it is critical at this stage to realize that we are not really dealing with a "policy" matter, as the FIRST STEP Act altered the policy for compassionate relief and did so in a way that included Bernie Madoff and all other federal prisoners.  Though the FIRST STEP Act has some "worst of the worst" carve-outs in other parts of the Act, but its new process for pursuing compassionate relief applies to all federal prisoners (which is one reason I think it is such an important and valuable part of the Act).  in other words, in this context there is no need to worry about creating any "separate category for Mr. Madoff, sex offenders or those 'others' in the criminal justice system."  If a federal judge decided to deny Madoff compassionate relief, after considering all the facts of Madoff's case and all the factors of 3553(a), that judge will be adjudicating and resolving a single case, not creating any broad "criminal justice policy."

As to the facts of Madoff's case, I have seen little evidence that Madoff has been truly remorseful or rehabilitated.  In fact, this 2016 ABC News article reports that "Madoff has done little to express his remorse or regret to the estimated 20,000 investors in his scheme, many of whom lost their life savings in the $64 billion fraud.  Other than a brief reference to his victims during his sentencing hearing, Madoff has spent a lot of his time behind bars in an effort to rehabilitate his own image and actually shift the blame to the investors for expecting unrealistic returns which he claims is why he set up his fraud."   And though surely Madoff's victims may not speak in one voice on these matters, I suspect many are open to a vision of "justice ... much more extensive than the incarceration," but are concerned that they have not seen any other form of extensive justice achieved here (though a whole lot of assets have been recovered after a decade of work).  Madoff not only committed arguably the worst white-collar offense in US history, but it seems he has not really done all that much to try to make amends.

Though I may be getting too nitpicky here, I wanted to comment on this piece because I found one particular sentence to be particularly disturbing: "The truth is, there is only a small number of entirely “sympathetic” people in prisons who could be released without any scruples by the public or affront to their victims."  The truth is, there are tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of entirely "sympathetic" people in US prisons who could be released without any scruples by the public or affront to their victims.  Just a quick look at "The Whole Pie" of incarceration shows over 275,000 persons imprisoned for drug offenses and another 200,000 in for "public order" offenses.  Not all of these the underlying crimes were victimless, but even if only one of every ten of these prisoners are "sympathetic," that still gets us to nearly 50,000 sympathetic prisons to consider for release.  Mass incarceration is so very troubling in part because there really are quite a large number of sympathetic cases, and I am particularly eager for there to be continued efforts to give voice to, and get relief for, the huge number of sympathetic folks wasting time (and taxpayer resources) in unduly lengthy prison terms.

This piece rightly notes "there are 200,000 people over the age of 55 incarcerated in the United States" and it is rightly concerned that "compassionate release for Mr. Madoff affects not only him but these others and their victims as well."  But these data and my fears tethered to Madoff's failure to demonstrate remorse run the argument the other way in my view: though I hope there would not be a backlash were Madoff to receive compassionate relief, I worry he could become the poster child for restricting this important relief mechanism for tens of thousands of other prisoners who would seem a lot more sympathetic.  That said, I do like imagining a (realistic?) future in which a decision to release Madoff prompts many more federal judges to grant compassionate release to many more federal prisoners.

Prior related post:

February 17, 2020 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Just some (of lots and lots of) commentary about Roger Stone(d) federal sentencing process

Unsurprisingly, lots of folks have lots of things to say about the upcoming federal sentencing of Roger Stone and the sentencing process and controversy that has already unfolded.  Here are links and short passages from three notable pieces that recently caught my eye:

From Jacob Sullum at Reason, "Roger Stone Deserves a Lighter Sentence, but Not Because He Is Trump's Buddy":

This week President Donald Trump and his appointees at the Justice Department intervened in the sentencing of Roger Stone, a longtime Trump crony who was convicted last November of obstructing a congressional investigation, lying to a congressional committee, and witness tampering. Yesterday, the day after four prosecutors assigned to the case recommended a sentence of seven to nine years, Timothy Shea, the interim U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, overrode them, suggesting "a sentence of incarceration far less" than the one originally proposed.

That reversal, which came after Trump called the original recommendation "horrible and very unfair," is unseemly and smacks of legal favoritism. At the same time, a prison sentence of seven to nine years is disproportionate given the nature and consequences of Stone's crimes....

Regardless of its motivation, the revised memorandum is admirably measured and fair-minded, noting that prosecutors have a duty to pursue justice, not simply to clobber defendants with the heaviest penalties the law allows. It would substantially improve the quality of justice in this country if prosecutors more often took that approach with defendants who are not the president's buddies.

From Andrew McCarthy at The National Review, "The Roger Stone Sentencing Fiasco":

But for his connection to Trump, Stone would never have been pursued in a collusion fever dream that Mueller’s prosecutors knew was bogus when they charged him. Yet his crimes, while exaggerated, were real. He was convicted by a jury and, under federal law, that presumptively warrants incarceration, though he could be spared by the judge (whom the president has picked a strange time to antagonize). If the president thinks that Stone and Flynn (among others) have been given a raw deal, the Constitution empowers him to pardon them, or at least commute their sentences.

If President Trump is afraid, in an election year, to take the political hit that a pardon for Stone would entail, that is understandable. But then he should bite his tongue and click out of Twitter. The Justice Department’s job is to process cases, including Mueller cases, pursuant to law. If the president wants to make those cases disappear, he has to do it himself and be accountable. His provocative running commentary only ensures that the DOJ will be accused of kowtowing to him. It also guarantees that, if the ongoing criminal probe of the Russiagate investigation eventually yields any indictments, they will be assailed as political persecutions rather than good-faith law enforcement.

From David Oscar Marcus at The Hill, "Let's use Roger Stone's case to fix our broken justice system":

People are rightly upset that DOJ is saying that the sentencing guidelines apply to everyone — except the president’s friends.  That’s a huge problem, and it’s no wonder that the prosecutors handling the case resigned.  How can they go into court every day and ask for monster sentences across the board except for FOT (Friends of Trump)?

But the larger problem, and the one that no one is talking about, is that the system itself is fatally flawed because it is set up for prosecutors and judges to issue unjustifiably harsh sentences.  Stone shouldn’t be thrown in a cage for 7-9 years — and neither should any other first-time non-violent offender.  There are two important fixes available:

First, we should abandon the sentencing guidelines.  Often prosecutors fall back on the sentencing guidelines for cover when asking for these crazy high sentences. Those “guidelines” are a complicated point system that calculate potential sentences by adding and subtracting points based on factors like the amount of loss, whether the person is a leader, and so on.  The problem with this point system is that it is not based on any empirical data or study. The numbers are plucked out of thin air.  Further, they don’t take into account the characteristics of the individual being sentenced.  Has the defendant led a good life?  Did she serve in the military?  Donate to charity?  Raise a good family?  The guidelines don’t care.  The Supreme Court recognized these problems and said that judges should simply consult the guidelines but should not be bound by them.  That was a good start, but the truth is that they aren’t even worth consulting.  They don’t work, and — since their implementation back in 1984 — our jail population has exploded.

Second, we should eliminate the trial tax.  This case is a good example of the trial tax in action. Had Stone pleaded guilty, he would have been looking at a sentence of closer to 24 months under the guidelines.  And had he met with prosecutors and cooperated, he likely would have been sentenced to probation.  Because he had the audacity to go to trial, his sentence goes from probation to 7-9 years.  It’s no wonder that innocent people plead guilty. It’s no wonder that trials are vanishing.  Before the sentencing guidelines and the trial tax, 20 percent of cases went to trial.  Now it’s less than 3 percent.  That is pretty stark evidence that the trial tax has become too severe.

Lots of people are rightly saying that Trump was wrong to jump in for his friend and overrule the line prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation.  But what was wrong about it was not overruling an overly harsh sentence.  What was wrong about it was that he did it for a friend instead of across the board. We are in bad need of criminal justice reform. Let’s overrule all of these insane sentencing recommendations for first time non-violent offenders — not just the FOT.

Prior related posts:

February 13, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

DOJ now says "sentence of incarceration far less than 87 to 108 months [for Roger Stone] would be reasonable under the circumstances"

As noted in this prior post, yesterday federal prosecutors filed this 26-page sentencing memorandum advocating for a within-guideline sentence of 7.3 to 9 years in prison for Roger Stone.  Prez Trump in the middle on the night tweeted out his displeasure with that advocacy, and today we saw filed this new 5-page supplemental and amended memorandum from federal prosecutors.  This new document is remarkable in many respects, and here are just a few excerpts that I suspect federal defendants may be keen to quote in other cases (in part because this new filing almost reads like a defense submission):

The prior filing submitted by the United States on February 10, 2020 (Gov. Sent. Memo. ECF No. 279) does not accurately reflect the Department of Justice’s position on what would be a reasonable sentence in this matter.  While it remains the position of the United States that a sentence of incarceration is warranted here, the government respectfully submits that the range of 87 to 108 months presented as the applicable advisory Guidelines range would not be appropriate or serve the interests of justice in this case.

It is well established that the prosecutor “is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.” Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935).  This axiom does not simply apply to the process of bringing charges or securing a conviction — it also “must necessarily extend” to the point where a prosecutor advocates for a particular sentence.  See United States v. Shanahan, 574 F.2d 1228, 1231 (5th Cir. 1978) (reviewing sentencing conduct of prosecutor). Applying that principle here, to the specific facts of this case, the government respectfully submits that a sentence of incarceration far less than 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment would be reasonable under the circumstances....

Here, as set forth in the government’s initial submission, the defendant’s total offense level is arguably 29 and his criminal history category is I, which would result in an advisory Guidelines range of 87 to 108 months.  Notably, however, the Sentencing Guidelines enhancements in this case — while perhaps technically applicable — more than double the defendant’s total offense level and, as a result, disproportionately escalate the defendant’s sentencing exposure to an offense level of 29, which typically applies in cases involving violent offenses, such as armed robbery, not obstruction cases. Cf. U.S.S.G. § 2B3.1(a)-(b)....  Accordingly, it would be reasonable for the Court to conclude that the Guidelines range as calculated is unduly high on the facts of this case.

After calculating the Guidelines, the Court next turns to the statutory sentencing factors.  Title 18 of the United States Code Section 3553(a) states that a sentencing court should “impose a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary” to achieve the statutory goals of sentencing.  In doing so, Section 3553(a) delineates several factors that the court must consider when imposing a sentence, “and the sentencing range . . . as set forth in the Guidelines” is but one of those factors....  Here, there are several facts and circumstances supporting the imposition of a sentence below 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment....

Finally, the Court also should consider the defendant’s advanced age, health, personal circumstances, and lack of criminal history in fashioning an appropriate sentence. As noted above, a sentence of 87 to 108 months more typically has been imposed for defendants who have higher criminal history categories or who obstructed justice as part of a violent criminal organization....

The defendant committed serious offenses and deserves a sentence of incarceration that is “sufficient, but not greater than necessary” to satisfy the factors set forth in Section 3553(a).  Based on the facts known to the government, a sentence of between 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment, however, could be considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances.

Interestingly, as reported via The Hill, a changed sentencing recommendation is not the end of the fallout here:

The four Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors who recommended Roger Stone be sentenced to seven to nine years in prison left the case Tuesday after top officials sought to reduce their sentencing request.

Prosecutors Michael Marando, Timothy J. Shea, Jonathan Kravis and Aaron Zelinsky all asked the judge in the case for permission to withdraw. Kravis left the DOJ entirely, announcing his resignation as an assistant U.S. attorney. The four were involved in providing the initial sentencing guidance for Stone. But in a rebuke to the career prosecutors, the DOJ on Tuesday told the judge in the case to apply "far less" to Stone's sentence....

The DOJ decision and the withdrawal of career prosecutors from the case stunned legal watchers and Washington and raised questions about potential political interference in the sentencing of a longtime Trump adviser. Reports of the DOJ reversal said top officials found the initial guidelines to be "excessive." Those reports also came after Trump blasted the guidelines on Twitter, saying that Stone was treated unfairly by prosecutors....

Speaking with reporters in the Oval Office, Trump said he didn't tell the Justice Department to amend its sentencing guidance but that he would have been within his rights to do so. “I'd be able to do it if I wanted. I have the absolute right to do it. I stay out of things,” Trump said.

"I didn't speak to them. I thought the recommendation was ridiculous. I thought the whole prosecution was ridiculous,” he continued. “I thought it was an insult to our country.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is calling on the DOJ's top watchdog to investigate the decision to suddenly recommend a lighter sentence for Stone, while the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is sending the Justice Department a Freedom of Information Act request for records related to the case. "The DOJ Inspector General must open an investigation immediately. I will be sending a formal request to the IG shortly," Schumer tweeted.

Prior related post:

February 11, 2020 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (7)

For Roger Stone, federal prosecutors advocate for within-guideline sentence of 7.3 to 9 years in prison ... which Prez Trump calls a "miscarriage of justice!"

As reported in this Politico piece, "Federal prosecutors are urging that longtime Donald Trump adviser and Republican political provocateur Roger Stone be sent to prison for about seven to nine years for his conviction on charges of lying and witness tampering during investigations of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign." Here is more about the sentencing filings in this high-profile case that emerged late yesterday:

The stern recommendation is starkly at odds with a suggestion from Stone's defense team that he should be sentenced to probation — and no jail time — in the case.

Following a weeklong trial last November, a Washington jury found Stone guilty on all seven felony counts he faced: five of making false statements to Congress, one of obstruction of Congress, and one of witness tampering with both the House Intelligence Committee inquiry and special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

In a sentencing filing Monday, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington argued that Stone's conduct was exceptionally sinister because of the importance of those investigations and the danger of overseas influence on U.S. elections. "Foreign election interference is the 'most deadly adversar[y] of republican government,'” prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington wrote, quoting Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Paper No. 68....  The argument was strikingly similar — in some cases borrowing from the exact passages from the same Constitution-era text — as that lodged by the House's prosecutors during Trump's impeachment trial. "Alexander Hamilton cautioned that the 'most deadly adversaries of republican government may come 'chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils,'" the House members argued in their trial brief....

While prosecutors tied the gravity of Stone's crimes to their impact on the electoral system, the bulk of the prison time authorities are calling for is a product of the prosecution's decision to treat hostile and vulgar messages Stone sent to longtime associate Randy Credico as genuine threats of violence, or at least as having the potential to stir up violence against Credico or others.  Prosecutors pointed, in particular, to a message Stone sent to Credico after he indicated plans to cooperate with the House committee. "Prepare to die, cocksucker," Stone wrote.  In another instance, Stone told Credico, who has a therapy dog, that he would "take that dog away from you."

Stone said during the trial his comments were in jest and part of the brash banter often exchanged between the two men, whose views are usually at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Prosecutors insisted that the barbed remarks mean Stone deserves between four and five years longer under federal sentencing guidelines than in cases involving witness tampering efforts that involve no physical threats.... Prosecutors acknowledged that Credico — a liberal New York city talk show host, comedian and activist — recently wrote to the court saying he did not think Stone was threatening him physically. Credico's letter urged that Stone get probation.  However, prosecutors also noted that during the trial, Credico said he was concerned about Stone's statements because they could encourage others to get violent.

Defense lawyers, who weighed in with U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson late Monday night, vigorously disputed the notion that Stone's statements to Credico were actual threats to do anything.  They noted that at the trial Credico called Stone's comments "hyperbole" and said Stone "loves all dogs," so he could not have actually intended to harm Credico's service dog, a tiny Coton de Tulear who's almost constantly at his side. "Stone’s indecorous conversations with Randy Credico were many things, but here, in the circumstances of this nearly 20-year relationship between eccentric men, where crude language was the norm, 'prepare to die cocksucker' and conversations of similar ilk, were not threats of physical harm, 'serious acts' used as a means of intimidation, or 'the more serious forms of obstruction' contemplated by the Guidelines," Stone's lawyers wrote....

Stone, 67, faces a maximum of 50 years in prison at the sentencing, which Jackson has set for Feb. 20. Prosecutors say federal sentencing guidelines urge between 87 to 108 months in prison for Stone.  The defense disputes several aspects of that calculation and argues that the guidelines call for just 15 to 21 months.  Judges have the right to sentence above or below the guidelines, but are required to calculate the recommended sentence and take it into account.

Stone's defense also submitted a collection of letters from his wife and acquaintances in the political sphere and elsewhere.  "I can't tell you that Roger is a saint — he pushes everything to the limit even with you," Stone's wife Nydia wrote, alluding to Stone's run-ins with the judge over her gag orders and perhaps to an Instagram post he sent during the trial that included a picture of Jackson next to what appeared to be crosshairs. She also proclaimed her husband "loyal, kind, loving, considerate, generous and good-natured," as well deeply committed to Trump's re-election.

Among others asking for leniency for Stone were Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf and former New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino.  Stone's supporters saluted him as an early backer of gay rights and marriage equality, an opponent of animal testing and a strong advocate for the easing of New York state's tough Rockefeller drug laws.

I am not surprised to see the upcoming Roger Stone sentencing to engender an interesting debate over both guideline calculations and 3553(a) factors (not to mention the real meaning of colorful phrases).  Here are the full filings from the parties:

Unsurprisingly (and I think importantly), President Donald Trump is not at all keen about the sentencing advocacy of his Department of Justice in this case. Among other tweets on the topic, Prez Trump retweeted a lament about federal prosecutors seeking "A *9 year* prison recommendation for non-violent crimes committed by a 67-year-old man." In addition, Prez Trump had this original tweet on the topic in the wee hours (just before 2am EST):

Regular readers know that plenty of extreme (and within-guideline) sentencing recommendations by federal prosecutors have kept me up at night, although I usually turn to blogging rather than tweeting to express my concerns about the banal severity and cruelty of the federal criminal justice system.  (For the record, all US Presidents — current, former and wanna-be — have an open invitation to guest-blog here about any sentencing matters!) 

Based on the submissions, I am inclined to (tentatively) predict that Judge Amy Berman Jackson will come to a lower guideline calculation than urged by prosecutors and yet still impose a below-guideline sentence.  But I still expect the sentencing judge to impose some prison time on Stone, at which point it will be interesting to see if Prez Trump will make another controversial use of his clemency power.  If Stone gets less than a year, I suspect Trump will leave him to serve his sentence at least until the upcoming election, as he has with Paul Manafort. 

As always, I welcome comments and other predictions from readers.

UPDATE: This Fox News article, headlined "DOJ expected to scale back Roger Stone's 'extreme' sentencing recommendation: official," suggests that federal prosecutors may soon be changing their sentencing tune in this high-profile case.

February 11, 2020 in Clemency and Pardons, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Terminally ill, Bernie Madoff is latest high-profile fraudster to seek compassionate release from federal prison thanks to FIRST STEP Act

As reported here a few months ago, former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers secured compassionate release from federal prison thanks largely to a provision of the FIRST STEP Act and to a federal judge believing his claim that he was extremely ill.  Though federal prosecutors questioned just how ill Ebbers really was (as noted here), the judge was proven right in this case: Ebbers passed away this past weekend.

Now, as reported here in a lengthy Washington Post piece, another notable high-profile fraudster is seeking compassionate release: "Ponzi scheme king Bernie Madoff, who bilked investors out of billions, seeks medical release from prison."  Here are the details:

The man convicted of the greatest Ponzi scheme in modern American history, guilty of bilking thousands of investors in 49 states and more than 120 countries, is asking a judge to release him from a life sentence so he can die outside prison walls.  Bernie Madoff said he is in the end stages of kidney disease, must use a wheelchair and is in need of round-the-clock help.  At 81, he is too old for a transplant, and he has been moved to palliative care within the Federal Medical Center prison in Butner, N.C.  He is asking for compassionate release so he can die at home.

In phone interviews with The Washington Post, Madoff expressed remorse for his massive fraud, in which he swindled investors out of billions, and said his dying wish is to salvage relationships with his grandchildren.  He has served 11 years of the 150-year sentence he was given in 2009, after pleading guilty to 11 criminal counts, including fraud and money laundering.  “I’m terminally ill,” Madoff said.  “There’s no cure for my type of disease. So, you know, I’ve served. I’ve served 11 years already, and, quite frankly, I’ve suffered through it.”

Relatively few inmates seeking compassionate release have had their petitions approved by the Federal Bureau of Prisons since the federal program was created in 1984.  But a bipartisan criminal justice reform law passed in late 2018 gave prisoners the right to appeal denials to a federal judge, and that is what Madoff is attempting.  His attorney filed a motion late Wednesday in the Southern District of New York.

Madoff’s request will test the justice system’s capacity for compassion weighed against his unprecedented crimes.  His scheme ruined scores of lives, stole the financial futures of thousands and sent many retirees back to work after wiping out their nest eggs.   At least four people connected to Madoff have died by suicide, including his son, Mark, who hanged himself on the second anniversary of his father’s arrest. Madoff’s remaining child, Andrew, died of cancer in 2014.

Others continue to suffer. Gregg Felsen’s savings were wiped out. Now 72, Felsen works as a wedding and event photographer in Palm Springs, Calif., to make a living. He said that he will never be able to retire and that Madoff doesn’t deserve to be granted a compassionate release.   “I never got a break; why should he get a break? He’s terminally ill? I’m terminally broke,” said Felsen, who said he did not receive restitution.  “He ruined a lot of people’s lives and changed them forever. He deserves no leniency whatsoever.”

The Bureau of Prisons acknowledges that Madoff has about 18 months to live, according to his medical records.  A prison doctor diagnosed him with end-stage renal disease, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and hyperparathyroidism, among other ailments.  The Bureau of Prisons said he fits the criteria for compassionate release but rejected his application in December.“His condition is considered terminal with a life expectancy of less than 18 months,” Ken Hyle, general counsel for the Bureau of Prisons, wrote in the rejection letter.  “However, Mr. Madoff is accountable of a loss to investors of over $13 billion.  Accordingly, in light of the nature and circumstances of his offense, his release at this time would minimize the severity of his offense.”...

Madoff said he is on dialysis and takes about 10 medications a day, including amlodipine and diltiazem for high blood pressure, atorvastatin (Lipitor) for high cholesterol, and calcitriol (a man-made form of vitamin D).   He said he has been given a back brace, bed wedge, medical shoes and a lower bunk.  He said that he has pain and cramping in his thighs, hips and knees and that he rarely sleeps more than an hour at a time, often waking from leg cramps.  Prison records indicate that Madoff is Care Level 4, defined as “functioning may be so severely impaired as to require 24-hour skilled nursing care or nursing assistance.”...

Considered the most significant prison rehabilitation law in more than a decade, the First Step Act was highlighted by President Trump in his State of the Union address Tuesday.  But the law has also been criticized by some conservatives who say its leniency was misguided and opened the door for notorious criminals such as Madoff to be released.  At least 124 people were granted compassionate release in 2019, the first full year of the First Step Act, according to the Justice Department, compared with 34 in all of 2018.

Pat Nolan, director of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform, worked with lawmakers drafting the First Step Act and said society gains nothing by letting people who are losing their physical and mental faculties languish in prison.  With their bodies and minds failing, he said, prison walls become redundant.  “For some, it’s never enough, but none of what he suffers is going to get a dime back to what he swindled or cheated,” Nolan said. “And, again, I don’t minimize at all [what Madoff has done]. But it’s the hallmark of a society to not punish somebody beyond reasonableness.”

Madoff’s attorney, Brandon Sample, said there shouldn’t be a compassionate release program if all prisoners, including Madoff, aren’t eligible.  “What does it say about us as a society? Are we going to be so insistent that it doesn’t matter, let them suffer there in prison? If that’s the case, why do we need compassionate release?” he asked.  “I don’t dispute that his conduct, his offense behavior impacted many, many people’s lives and caused harm.  There’s no dispute. But the question now is, with his present situation, what would that hypothetical jury do today faced with the Bernie Madoff who’s in a wheelchair, who’s on his last legs of life?”

In light of the extraordinary crimes of Bernie Madoff and their extraordinary consequences, I actually think a hypothetical jury might well demand that Madoff spend the rest of his dwindling day behind bars.  But, under federal law, this issue is not one for a jury to decide.  Rather, specifically pursuant to 18 USC 3582(c)(1)(A)(i), a federal judge will have to decide, "after considering the factors set forth in section 3553(a)," if she finds "extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant"  a sentence reduction for Madoff.  (Ivory tower aside: arguably a federal judge might have power to impanel an advisory jury to assist with making this judgment, but only a crazy Apprendi-addled academic like me could ever even imagine such a move.)

Notably, the judge who originally sentenced Madoff to the maximum available term of 150 years, Judge Denny Chin, is no longer a District Judge after his elevation to the Second Circuit by Prez Obama.  Consequently, some other District Judge in the Southern District of New York will resolve Madoff's motion.  I am inclined to predict that a judge may be inclined to embrace the BOP's view that "in light of the nature and circumstances of his offense, [Madoff's] release at this time would minimize the severity of his offense."  But this one will be interesting to watch.

UPDATE: Here is a copy of the motion that was filled in this matter.

February 5, 2020 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Different type of drug dealers get lengthy (though still way-below-guideline) sentences for RICO conspiracy to push opiods

There are nearly 400 drug dealers sentenced in federal courts every single week in the US, but a number of notable defendants were sentenced last week for their role in a somewhat different kind of drug conspiracy.  This Forbes article provides the basic details:

John Kapoor, the 76-year old billionaire founder of Insys Therapeutics, has been sentenced to 66-months in prison for orchestrating a system of bribery and kickbacks to physicians across the US in exchange for prescribing and over prescribing large amounts of the powerful fentanyl spray, Subsys, to patients with little to no need of the drug. Kapoor is the first ever CEO of a drug company to be convicted by the federal government in their fight to combat the opioid crisis.

Kapoor’s sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs in a Boston federal court on Thursday January 23rd.... It is the lengthiest prison sentence imposed on any of the seven former Insys executives who were found guilty of racketeering charges in May of 2019. In addition to Kapoor’s 66-month sentence he was sentenced to three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

Similar sentences have been handed down in recent days to Kapoor’s seven co-conspirators.  Michael Gurry, Insys' former vice president, along with Richard Simon, Insys’ national director of sales, each received 33-months in prison; Michael Babich, Insys’ former CEO,was sentenced to 30-months; Joseph Rowan, the company's regional sales director, received 27 months; Alec Burlakoff, the former vice president of sales, was sentenced to 26 months Thursday; and Sunrise Lee, the former regional sales director, to a year and a day in prison....

The landmark case has been notable on two major fronts, the first being big pharma’s hand in the perpetuation and exacerbation of the opioid epidemic in the US and second, Insys’ systematic defrauding of the American healthcare system. From 2012 and 2015, Insys allegedly paid physicians to prescribe Subsys to patient and then went on to lie to insurance companies and defraud hundreds of thousands of dollars from Medicare from physician to physician to ensure that the expensive fentanyl-based painkiller would be covered....

Kapoor’s five and a half year sentence is considerably less than the 15-year prison sentence that was being sought by prosecutors who asserted that Kapoor was the ‘fulcrum’ of the racketeering scheme and was the only defendant who could not have been replaced by another conspirator.  Federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo, "He was the principal leader, who personally approved, and thereafter enforced, the corrupt strategies employed throughout the conspiracy," continuing, "This crime would not have happened, could not have happened, without John Kapoor. It was, in almost every way, Kapoor’s crime."

Kapoor and his four co-defendants were faced with seven victims and family members of victims whose gave emotional statements about how their lives had been destroyed by Insys’ actions.  “By the grace of God, I am here to speak for all of us including the ones who lives you took,” said victim Paul Lara, who says he still suffers from being prescribed a drug that was never meant for him. Subsys, the powerful fentanyl spray is intended for terminal cancer patients to ease the pain during end of life care....

"Today's convictions mark the first successful prosecution of top pharmaceutical executives for crimes related to the illicit marketing and prescribing of opioids," U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling said in a statement.  "Just as we would street-level drug dealers, we will hold pharmaceutical executives responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic by recklessly and illegally distributing these drugs, especially while conspiring to commit racketeering along the way." Lelling continued,  "This is a landmark prosecution that vindicated the public's interest in staunching the flow of opioids into our homes and streets."

Though Kapoor will now have to be in federal prison until he is in his 80s and might not live out the term, this CBS News article reports that victims are not content with the sentences imposed. The piece is headlined "Pharmaceutical executives 'got away with murder,' says mom of woman who died of an overdose," and here is an excerpt:

The prison sentence given to the pharmaceutical executive who helped fuel the opioid crisis "wasn't fair," the mother of a woman who died of an overdose said.  Deb Fuller was at the Boston courthouse Thursday, where Insys Therapeutics founder John Kapoor was sentenced to five and a half years for his role in bribing doctors to prescribe the powerful painkiller Subsys.  "I don't think it was fair. It wasn't fair to all the victims," Fuller told CBS News consumer investigative correspondent Anna Werner....

Former Insys Therapeutics Vice President of Sales Alec Burlakoff, who was featured in a video of company employees rapping about increasing sales, also was sentenced.  He got a shorter term of 26 months in prison, reflecting the fact that he cooperated with prosecutors.  Outside the courthouse, when asked if there was anything he would say to families of people who overdosed on Subsys, he said, "I'm sorry, very sorry."

Four other executives received sentences ranging from a year and a day to 33 months, not long enough for many families. "They all got away with murder because that's exactly what they did because it's more than Sarah that died from it," Fuller said.

January 26, 2020 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 13, 2020

Rounding up previews of SCOTUS oral argument in "Bridgegate" case

More than six years after an infamous partial closing of the George Washington Bridge, and more than three years after a few staffers to then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were convicted of federal crimes resulting from this incident, the US Supreme Court will be hearing oral argument tomorrow in Kelly v. United States.   This affair became known as "Bridgegate," and here is how the case's question is presented in the initial  petition for certiorari:  "Does a public official 'defraud' the government of its property by advancing a 'public policy reason' for an official decision that is not her subjective 'real reason' for making the decision?"

Though this case is more about the reach and application of federal criminal statutes than about sentencing, white-collar cases (and political cases) are often worth watching closely because of how they can skew, both jurists and advocates, the usual political divisions of who is pro-defendant and pro-government.  In light of that reality, I am especially interested in how the newer Justices will engage in this case.  Helpfully, Kelly has generated lots of previews from others, so I can be content here to do a quick round-up:

And back in September, SCOTUSblog had a little on-line symposium on the case, which can be found at this link.

January 13, 2020 in Offense Characteristics, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Federal prosecutors, now soured on Michael Flynn, note that "similarly situated defendants have received terms of imprisonment"

As reported in this Washington Post piece, "Federal prosecutors Tuesday recommended that former national security adviser Michael Flynn serve up to six months in prison, reversing their earlier recommendation of probation after his attacks against the FBI and Justice Department." Here is more on the latest filing by prosecutors:

The government revoked its request for leniency weeks after Flynn’s sentencing judge categorically rejected Flynn’s claims of prosecutorial misconduct and that he had been duped into pleading guilty to lying to FBI agents about his Russian contacts after the 2016 U.S. election. “In light of the complete record . . . the government no longer deems the defendant’s assistance ‘substantial,’ ” prosecutor Brandon Van Grack wrote in a 33-page court filing.  He added, “It is clear that the defendant has not learned his lesson. He has behaved as though the law does not apply to him, and as if there are no consequences for his actions.”

Flynn faces sentencing Jan. 28 before U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in Washington. Flynn defense attorney Sidney Powell is scheduled to file his sentencing request Jan. 22.

The request marked the latest twist in the legal saga of the former Army lieutenant general and adviser to President Trump, whose rocky path after his candidate won the White House included serving the shortest tenure of a national security adviser on record — just 24 days — before resigning in February 2017. He then became a key witness in a probe into the administration, before breaking with the prosecutors who had credited him with helping them.

Flynn’s change of heart came after the end of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Russian election interference. Some Trump allies at that time pushed the president to pardon figures in the probe, particularly Flynn. A potential prison term could renew such calls.

Flynn, 61, pleaded guilty Dec. 1, 2017, to lying about his communications with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition, becoming the highest-ranking Trump official charged and one of the first to cooperate with Mueller’s office.

Flynn faces up to a five-year prison term under the charge, which included his misrepresentation of work advancing the interests of the Turkish government. However, ahead of Flynn’s initially scheduled sentencing in December 2018, prosecutors said he deserved probation for his “substantial assistance” in several ongoing investigations. In a November 2018 filing, Mueller wrote that Flynn’s guilty plea “likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming . . . and cooperate.” The special counsel noted Flynn’s “early cooperation was particularly valuable because he was one of the few people with long-term and firsthand insight regarding events and issues under investigation.”...

This year Flynn switched defense lawyers, and his new team asked Sullivan to find prosecutors in contempt, alleging Flynn had been entrapped into pleading guilty and prosecutors wrongfully withheld evidence. Flynn also broke with prosecutors in the July federal trial of his former business partner Bijan Rafiekian, on charges of illegally lobbying for Turkey. Flynn was set to be the star witness against Rafiekian. He told a grand jury he and Rafiekian campaigned “on behalf of elements within the Turkish government,” a project that included an op-ed under Flynn’s name on Election Day in 2016. But just before the trial, Flynn claimed prosecutors wanted him to lie. A jury convicted Rafiekian without Flynn’s testimony, but a judge threw out those convictions in part because he found “insufficient” evidence of a conspiracy between the two men or of the Turkish government’s role....

In withdrawing their request for leniency, Flynn’s prosecutors highlighted his hindrance of Rafiekian’s prosecution, the only cooperation they had initially deemed “substantial.” The government recommended zero to six months of incarceration for Flynn, citing “the serious nature of the defendant’s offense, his apparent failure to accept responsibility, his failure to complete his cooperation in — and his affirmative efforts to undermine — the prosecution of Bijan Rafiekian.”

Prosecutors backed their claim Tuesday by filing dozens of pages detailing Flynn and his lobbying firm’s misconduct, including grand-jury transcripts and FBI interview reports. Overall, prosecutors said Flynn participated in 19 interviews with federal prosecutors and turned over documents and communications. The substance of his cooperation was initially hidden, but most has come out in Mueller’s final report, subsequent trials or public records released as a result of lawsuits filed by news organizations.

The Government's 33-page "supplemental memorandum in aid of sentencing" in US v. Flynn is available at this link and makes for quite an interesting read. Lots of headlines concerning the filing suggest that the feds are seeking a prison term for Flynn and one as long as six months.  But the final phrase of the submission's introduction simply states that "the government recommends that the court sentence the defendant within the applicable Guidelines range of 0 to 6 months of incarceration."  A sentence of zero months for Flynn would technically be within the applicable guideline range and comply with the government's recommendation.  Highlighting the nuance of the Government's work here, consider the final section of the submission, which start and ends this way:

The factors enunciated in Section 3553(a) all favor the imposition of a sentence within the Guidelines range.  The defendant’s offense is serious, his characteristics and history present aggravating circumstances, and a sentence reflecting those factors is necessary to deter future criminal conduct.  Similarly situated defendants have received terms of imprisonment....

In the above cases, a term of imprisonment was imposed.  The government acknowledges that the defendant’s history of military service, and his prior assistance to the government, though not substantial, may distinguish him from these other defendants.  The government asks the Court to consider all of these factors, and to impose an appropriate sentence within the Guidelines range.

Prior related posts (all from over one year ago):

January 7, 2020 in Celebrity sentencings, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, December 20, 2019

"Punishing Pill Mill Doctors: Sentencing Disparities in the Opioid Epidemic"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Adam Gershowitz just posted to SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Consider two pill mill doctors who flooded the streets with oxycodone and other dangerous opioids.  The evidence against both doctors was overwhelming.  They each sold millions of opioid pills.  Both doctors charged addicted patients hundreds of dollars in cash for office visits that involved no physical examinations and no diagnostic tests.  Instead, the doctors simply handed the patients opioids in exchange for cash.  To maximize their income, both doctors conspired with street dealers to import fake patients — many of them homeless — so that the doctors could write even more prescriptions.  Both doctors made millions of dollars profiting off the misery of people addicted to opioids.  Even though juries convicted both doctors of similar criminal charges, they received drastically different sentences.  The first doctor was sentenced to 5 years, while the second doctor received a 35-year-sentence.

This article reviews 25 of the worst opioid pill mill doctors to be sentenced in the last five years, and it details drastic sentencing disparities in the federal system.  In more than half the cases, judges departed well below the Federal Sentencing Guidelines to impose sentences that were decades less than would be expected.

The sentencing variations in pill mill cases are not driven by traditional explanations such as the trial penalty or the defendant’s criminal history.  Instead, the sentencing variations are explained primarily by the age of the doctors.  Many pill mill doctors are in their 60s and 70s, and judges appear to be tailoring their sentencing decisions to ensure that older doctors will not spend the rest of their lives in prison.  Additionally, prosecutors face an uphill battle in proving the drug quantity against white-collar doctors (rather than street dealers) who can claim that some of their prescriptions were legitimate.  This article documents the difficulty of equitably punishing pill mill doctors, as well as the significance of age in sentencing older, white-collar offenders.

December 20, 2019 in Data on sentencing, Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Rick Gates gets sentence of 45 days in jail and a fine and community service (while co-defendant Paul Manafort has five more years in prison)

As reported in this CBS News piece, "Rick Gates, the former Trump campaign official and onetime business partner of Paul Manafort, was sentenced to 45 days in jail on counts of conspiracy and lying to federal investigators." Here is more:

Gates, 47, appeared in federal court in Washington to learn his sentence Tuesday. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced him to 36 months probation and 45 days behind bars, which he will be allowed to serve on weekends or under a schedule set by probation officers. He must also pay a fine of $20,000 over the course of 20 months, and complete 300 hours of community service.

Gates was one of six Trump associates charged in connection to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He pleaded guilty to two counts in February 2018, admitting he lied to federal investigators and helped Manafort conceal millions of dollars in overseas payments. Gates agreed to cooperate with the government, becoming the star witness in high-profile trials of three others charged in the Mueller probe: Manafort, Roger Stone and Greg Craig.

Because of his extensive cooperation with the government, federal prosecutors recommended that Jackson sentence Gates to probation, a much lighter punishment than the maximum 10 years in prison the charges allowed under federal guidelines.

Gates was Manafort's right-hand man and became his deputy when Manafort was named chairman of the Trump campaign in 2016. After Manafort was forced to step down over revelations about his work in Ukraine, Gates stayed on, becoming a liaison between the campaign and the Republican National Committee. He helped plan President Trump's inauguration before leaving for a job with a pro-Trump outside group.

At Manafort's trial on charges of bank fraud and other financial crimes, Gates provided crucial testimony against his former boss, telling jurors Manafort had instructed him to forge financial documents and IRS forms.

As folks may recall, Manafort was convicted at trial of some counts, pleaded guilty to another set of charges and he ultimately received 7.5 years in total imprisonment after two sentencings.  And, according to the Bureau of Prisons inmate locator, Manafort now has a release date of Christmas Day 2024.

Prior related post:

December 17, 2019 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Sentencing recommendation for Rick Gates highlights what a difference a guilty plea and lots of cooperation can make

All federal practitioners know, and all federal defendants should know, that what a defendant actually did can often matter a lot less in the sentencing process than whether that defendant pleads guilty and cooperates with authorities.  The latest reminder of this reality comes from the upcoming sentencing of Rick Gates, who was indicted two years ago in a 31-page indictment of  available via this link in which he was portrayed as a "partner in crime" with Paul Manafort. 

Manafort, of course, fought the charges and after being found guilty (on less than half of the charges given to the jury), federal prosecutors calculated his applicable guideline range as nearly 20 to 25 years in prison and seemed to argue that Manafort deserved a 20-year prison term for his criminal behaviors.  (Matters get complicated thereafter because Manafort pleaded guilty to another set of charges and he ultimately received 7.5 years in total imprisonment after two sentencings.) 

Gates, in telling contrast, decided to plead guilty and cooperate with authorities.  Doing so contributed to a guideline calculation setting this advisory Guidelines range at 46 to 57 months of imprisonment.  And, as this Politico article highlights, it has now also led the federal prosecutors not to oppose Gates' request for a sentence of probation and no fine in this 19-page sentencing memo.  Here is part of the Politico piece providing highlights:

Rick Gates should be rewarded with probation after serving as a critical high-profile government witness whose testimony helped net convictions against two of President Donald Trump’s campaign aides, the Justice Department and an attorney for the former Trump deputy campaign chairman said in a pair of new court filings.

Gates — who pleaded guilty in February 2018 to financial fraud and lying to investigators — quickly became a fountain of information for Robert Mueller’s investigators, eventually testifying against both former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, Trump’s long-time political whisperer.

The 47-year-old GOP operative spent more than 500 hours with federal and state prosecutors, both before and after he officially flipped on Trump and his allies. He also responded to three congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony. Gates’ voice dominates the final Mueller report, as he recounts details about how Trump and his 2016 campaign coordinated and planned for the release of stolen Democratic emails at critical moments of the White House race.

In a filing Monday, Gates’ attorney pleaded with U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson to give his client probation and impose no fines when she sentences him Dec. 17. “We believe that the parties are in agreement that Mr. Gates has fulfilled every obligation he agreed to (and then some) and that he has devoted enormous energy and commitment to this task while telling the truth and maintaining his composure,” wrote Gates’ attorney, Tom Green.

Federal prosecutors — who inherited the Gates case from Mueller — said in a filing Tuesday that they wouldn’t oppose the request for probation. The former Trump deputy had “provided the government with extraordinary assistance,” wrote Molly Gaston, an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington D.C.  That included 50 meetings with investigators, during which Gates provided “truthful information” to Mueller and several other DOJ offices, as well as a vow to testify in any ongoing cases.  "Gates’ cooperation has been steadfast despite the fact that the government has asked for his assistance in high-profile matters, against powerful individuals, in the midst of a particularly turbulent environment," Gaston added.

Without elaborating, Gaston also said Gates had "received pressure not to cooperate with the government, including assurances of monetary assistance."  Gates has already helped the government at several high-profile moments.  In August 2018, he incriminated Manafort from the witness stand in several crimes, including multimillion-dollar tax evasion, bank fraud and hiding offshore accounts.  A jury later convicted Manafort, who is now serving a 7 1/2-year prison sentence. Gates also appeared last month as a star witness in the trial against Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks in the 2016 presidential race.

For so many reasons, the crimes and subsequent behaviors of Manafort and Gates are unique in many ways.  But federal practitioners know well that it is actually quite common for one defendant who goes to trial to be facing a prosecutorial recommendation of decades in prison while a cooperating co-defendant involved in comparable criminal behavior receives a recommendation for only probation.

December 11, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Medical disputes before federal court as high-profile, white-collar prisoner seeks compassionate release

This NBC News article, headlined "NY prosecutors suggest former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers is faking illness to get out of jail time," reports on an interesting dispute as a high-profile defendants seeks a sentencing reduction thanks to the FIRST STEP Act.  Here are the details:

Federal prosecutors say 78-year-old former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers may not be in as bad physical shape as indicated in court filings seeking his early release from prison due to health concerns.

In a letter Monday to U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gina Castellano cites a note from a prison psychologist who listened in on phone calls between Ebbers and his daughter in recent weeks.  Joy Ebbers Bourne has said in a sworn declaration that her father has dementia.  “In the calls, he was alert, aware and oriented to person, place, time and situation,” the psychologist is quoted as saying, adding that Ebbers was asking about his daughter’s efforts to get him out of prison.  He is being held at the prison medical center in Fort Worth, Texas....

In a response filed in court Tuesday, Ebbers attorney Graham Carner said the alleged discrepancies can be explained by factors that have nothing to do with fakery.  “It is commonly known that people suffering from dementia (which can have many forms) can experience symptom fluctuation (i.e., ‘good days and bad days’),” Carner wrote.

The response, which notes that cognitive issues have not been the focus of Ebbers’ legal motion, cites other parts of his medical records that Carner says demonstrate Ebbers “has a substantially diminished ability to provide self-care in prison.”  Carner noted that Ebbers has suffered multiple falls, and that according to the medical report, he weighed just 148 pounds last week, down from 200 pounds in July.  “Objective medical findings show that his age and medical condition qualify as extraordinary and compelling reasons for compassionate release,” Carner wrote.

Caproni, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, had given the government until Monday to supply the additional medical data, most of which were filed under seal.  In addition to asking for any tests as to whether Ebbers was malingering, or faking his memory loss, the judge asked for information on Ebbers’ rapid weight loss — the former bouncer has reportedly withered to around 160 pounds.  Castellano said an abdominal ultrasound performed late last month found “no definitively worrisome or sonographically acute findings,” but further tests are scheduled next month.

Ebbers has served about 13 years of his 25-year sentence for orchestrating the $11 billion accounting fraud by the defunct telecommunications company. With good behavior, he is scheduled for release in 2028.

Before the FIRST STEP Act, Ebbers' request for compassionate release almost surely would have been rejected by the Bureau of Prisons and that would be the end of the matter. Now, thanks to FIRST STEP, Ebbers' can get a federal judge to consider these matters.

November 20, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 15, 2019

You be the federal judge: what sentence for Roger Stone after his conviction on all seven counts including obstruction, witness tampering and making false statements to Congress?

The question in the title of this is prompted by this criminal justice news emerging from a federal courthouse in DC today: "Roger Stone, an ally of President Donald Trump, was found guilty Friday of lying to Congress and obstructing an investigation into Russia to protect Trump and his presidential campaign."  Here is some more about the case and convictions:

The jury's verdict came after about eight hours of deliberation.  Stone, a fixture in GOP politics, has worked on campaigns stretching back to Richard Nixon's.  Stone is the latest Trump ally to be found guilty in cases sprouting from a special counsel's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

The verdict, reached by a jury of nine women and three men, comes amid an impeachment inquiry into allegations that Trump sought to pressure Ukraine into investigating a political rival....  Trump took to Twitter shortly after the verdict was announced. He decried a "double standard" and said law enforcement officials lied, including Robert Mueller, the special counsel who headed the Russia investigation.

Stone's trial ends after a week marked with Nixon quotes, references to the Mafia movie "The Godfather" and a colorful witness who offered to do a Bernie Sanders impression before an unamused federal judge.  The proceedings attracted the attendance of controversial figures, including alt-right firebrands Milo Yiannopoulos and Jacob Wohl.

Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser who attended the trial, said he was escorted out of the courtroom by a federal marshal for turning his back on the jurors as they walked out.  "Normal Americans don’t stand a chance with an Obama judge and a Washington jury," he tweeted.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson allowed Stone to go home as he awaits his sentencing, scheduled for Feb. 6.  A gag order preventing him from talking about the case remains in effect. He and his attorneys did not comment as they left the courthouse....

The proceedings revealed information about the Trump campaign's efforts to seek advance knowledge of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee, which hurt Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton when Trump was trailing in the polls.  Testimony indicated these efforts involved the candidate himself.

Stone, 67, stood trial on accusations that he repeatedly lied to Congress about his back-channel efforts to push for the release of those emails. He was accused of urging a possible congressional witness to either lie or scuttle his testimony.

"Roger Stone lied … because the truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump," Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Zelinsky told jurors.

Defense attorneys urged jurors to focus on Stone's state of mind, arguing he did not willfully mislead Congress.  The claim that Stone lied to protect the Trump campaign was "absolutely false," Bruce Rogow told jurors.  "It makes no sense," Rogow said, adding that the campaign was long over and Trump was already president when Stone testified before Congress in 2017. "Why would Stone lie, why would he make stuff up? ... There is no purpose, there is no reason, there is no motive."

Stone was found guilty of seven charges: one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, five counts of false statements and one count of witness tampering. The maximum penalty for all counts totals 50 years in prison, though first-time offenders generally receive significantly lower sentences.

Jurors heard from five government witnesses and saw dozens of emails and text messages that prosecutors said proved Stone lied.  His defense attorneys did not call any witnesses, and Stone, known for his flamboyance and combativeness, did not testify.  The charges stemmed from Stone's interactions with the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016, around the time that WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy group, began publishing troves of damaging emails about the Democratic National Committee and Clinton.

Prosecutors said Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee about his efforts to push for the release of those emails.  They said he lied about the identity of the person who tipped him off about WikiLeaks' plans — his so-called intermediary.  They said he falsely denied talking to the Trump campaign about what he learned and falsely told Congress he did not have text messages and emails in which he talked about WikiLeaks.

Prosecutors said Stone sought to silence a witness who could expose these lies by using threatening references from "The Godfather" movie.  Stone urged the witness in multiple emails to follow the steps of Frank Pentangeli, a character in "The Godfather II" who lied to Congress to avoid incriminating Mafia boss Michael Corleone.

In some settings, I would be inclined to predict that an elderly nonviolent first(?) offender is quite unlikely to get a lengthy prison term or even any prison time at all.  But these days and in these kinds of high-profile case, I am never quite sure what to expect or predict.

So, dear readers, what sentence do you think you would be inclined to impose?

November 15, 2019 in Booker in district courts, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, September 27, 2019

SCOTUSblog online symposium previews "Bridgegate" political corruption case

Though there are other cases to be argued earlier in the coming Supreme Court Term that are sure to be of interest to sentencing fans, I suspect more than a few folks in the white-collar bar are especially excited for Kelly v. United States, a high-profile political fraud case on the SCOTUS docket this Term.  I know the great folks at SCOTUSblog are focused on this case, as they put together an online symposium this week with a lot of leading white-collar crime voices.  Here are the links, with all recommended reading:

September 27, 2019 in Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Next parent up in college admission scandal sentencing also gets four months in federal prison

As reported in this Boston Globe piece, a "Los Angeles man who paid $400,000 to get his son into Georgetown as a fake tennis recruit in the college admissions cheating scandal was sentenced Thursday to four months in prison."  Here are some of the details:

Stephen Semprevivo, 53, learned his fate in US District Court in Boston.  He’ll also have to serve two years of supervised release, perform 500 hours of community service, and pay a $100,000 fine, though prosecutors said the court “may offset [Semprevivo’s] fine with restitution to be determined at a later hearing.”

Semprevivo pleaded guilty in May to a sole count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. “I deserve to be punished,” Semprevivo said Thursday during brief remarks before Judge Indira Talwani sentenced him. “I am fully responsible.”...

The government had sought a 13-month prison term for Semprevivo, a former Cydcor Inc. executive. On Thursday, Assistant US Attorney Kristen A. Kearney reiterated several points contained in the government’s previously filed sentencing memorandum, in which prosecutors said Semprevivo showed “chutzpah” by suing Georgetown after his guilty plea in an effort to block the school from expelling his son.

“He tried to retain the fruits of his fraud,” Kearney said.  “The defendant’s audacity is breathtaking.” The lawsuit was ultimately withdrawn, and Semprevivo’s son was booted from campus.

Kearney also bristled at the contention from Semprevivo’s lawyers that he was a victim of Singer, who they said manipulated their client into participating in the scheme.  “The defendant was no passive wallflower or Singer’s puppet,” Kearney said, noting Semprevivo had his son write an e-mail to then-Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst, telling Ernst he was eager to play for him, when in fact he didn’t play competitive tennis.

Semprevivo, Kearney said, “was not doing what was best for his son” but instead sought the “Holy Grail” of a Georgetown degree: “In other words, bragging rights.”...

David E. Kenner, a lawyer for Semprevivo, said during Thursday’s hearing that his client feels “great shame and terrible remorse” for bringing his son into the fraud.  At one point, Kenner said the case didn’t involve “an African-American tennis player” getting replaced by a “white tennis player,” which seemed to puzzle Talwani, who said she wasn’t sure why Kenner brought up race.  Ultimately, Talwani said, “one student [Semprevivo’s son] got an offer letter” to attend Georgetown “instead of a different student.”

Kenner conceded the point, telling Talwani that Semprevivo’s crime wasn’t “victimless,” citing “the people who didn’t get the spot that Mr. Semprevivo’s son got.”  Talwani told Semprevivo from the bench, “I don’t criticize you for being taken in” by Singer, who offered parents a so-called side door to get their children into elite schools via bribery. However, Talwani asked, “What makes your children entitled to a side door?”

She said she believes that Semprevivo is remorseful and ordered him to surrender to authorities on Nov. 7.

Prior related posts:

September 26, 2019 in Celebrity sentencings, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 23, 2019

Gearing up for the next round of sentencings in college admissions scandal

This new Los Angeles Times article, headlined "Prosecutors in college admissions scandal fighting for prison time for parents," reports on arguments and analyses in the run up to the federal sentencings of other persons who have pleaded guilty in the high-profile college admissions scandal. Here are highlights:

Shortly before she sentenced Felicity Huffman this month to two weeks in prison for her role in the college admissions scandal, a judge settled a lingering legal dispute.  Prison sentences for parents who admitted to taking part in the scheme would not be based on how much money they paid to take part in the scam, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani ruled.

The ruling didn’t impact Huffman because the $15,000 she paid to rig her daughter’s college entrance exams was far less than what others shelled out.  But starting this week, Talwani will sentence 10 more parents, and her decision dealt a blow to prosecutors, who tried to convince her that higher payments should mean longer sentences.

The parents and their attorneys, meanwhile, have been left with mixed signals from the judge.  On the one hand, her ruling means parents could receive significantly lower prison sentences or avoid prison altogether.  On the other, Talwani’s decision that Huffman should spend some time incarcerated is a sign she’ll come down as hard or harder on other parents, experts said.  “She would need a very compelling reason to give someone with the same or more culpability less time,” said James Felman, an attorney and expert on white-collar sentencing norms who isn’t involved in the case.

The prosecution doubled down after their defeat.  In an effort to salvage the prison sentences they maintain are warranted in the case, they are trying a new tack.  Rather than staking the rationale for incarceration to the five- and six-figure sums parents paid to access the bribery and cheating operation run by college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, the government wants Talwani to punish them for the deviousness and audaciousness of their crimes.

Under the new approach put forth in court papers filed by Assistant U.S. Atty. Eric Rosen, parents who took elaborate, deliberate steps to sneak their kids into a school or tried to cover their tracks afterward would be more culpable than someone who simply wrote Singer a check.

Rosen’s gamble will be tested this week when Talwani sentences two Los Angeles businessmen in court hearings Tuesday and Thursday.  Up first is Devin Sloane, an executive at a water technology company who has admitted paying Singer and an alleged accomplice $250,000 to get his son into USC by misrepresenting the teen as a talented water polo player who deserved a spot on the school’s team.

Before Talwani made her ruling, Rosen asked the judge to sentence Sloane to one year in prison.  The prosecutor did not budge from the request in a new filing last week, even though the judge’s order means Sloane — and all of the parents Talwani sentences — are eligible for sentences ranging from no time in prison to six months incarcerated under federal sentencing guidelines that judges consult.

Rosen argued in his recent filing that a year in prison was still the appropriate penalty, pointing to what he called Sloane’s “moral indifference during the fraud, and his lack of remorse afterward.”...  Rosen also revived the idea that the size of Sloane’s payment should have some bearing on his sentence, despite Talwani’s ruling.  He wrote that while the $250,000 sum is “an imperfect measure of blameworthiness,” it still amounted to an “indication, however rough, of the lengths he was willing to go to obtain the illegal fruits of a fraud scheme.”

Nathan Hochman, an attorney for Sloane, countered with a lengthy written plea, making a case for why Talwani should spare the 53-year-old father from prison.  Hochman portrayed Sloane as a stand-up, well-intentioned father who got caught up in the pressure cooker of the college application process and made a regrettable decision.  Far from eschewing responsibility, Hochman said Sloane owned up to his crime soon after he was arrested in March.  Instead of prison, Hochman urged to Talwani to give Sloane probation and 2,000 hours of community service.

Attorneys for Stephen Semprevivo, who will be sentenced Thursday, asked Talwani to spare him prison as well, saying probation and 2,000 hours of community service would suffice.  Semprevivo, they wrote in a court filing, was a “victim” of Singer, a “master manipulator” who coaxed and eventually coerced Semprevivo into going through with the fraud.

Rosen rebuffed that portrayal, saying the Los Angeles business development executive should spend 13 months in prison for conspiring with Singer to bribe a Georgetown tennis coach to recruit his son, who didn’t play tennis, at a cost of $400,000.  Rosen laced into Semprevivo for making his son “an active participant in a long-term federal crime” and making the decision to file a lawsuit against Georgetown in an attempt to keep the school from annulling his son’s credits.

Prior related posts:

September 23, 2019 in Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Gearing up for the federal sentencing of Felicity Huffman and others involved in college bribery scandal

Just over a week before the highest-profile sentencing of the bunch, USA Today has this lengthy review of federal sentencing realities and prospects for a range of defendants involved in the college bribery scandal.  The piece if headlined "Felicity Huffman to kick off sentencing of parents in college admissions case: Will judge 'send a message?'," and merits a read in full.  Here are a few excerpts:

The Justice Department suffered a setback in June when the first defendant sentenced in the nation's college admissions scandal, a former Stanford University sailing coach, avoided any prison time.  The prosecution soon has an opportunity to rebound as the historic "Varsity Blues" case enters a critical new phase.

Parents who pleaded guilty to paying Rick Singer, the mastermind of a nationwide college admissions cheating and bribery scheme, are set to be sentenced, beginning next week. Fifteen parents, three college coaches and two other co-conspirators of Singer are to be sentenced this fall.

First up is one of the two celebrities charged in the sweeping case: actress Felicity Huffman, whose sentencing is set for Sept. 13.  In a deal with prosecutors, Huffman pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for paying Singer $15,000 to have someone correct her daughter's SAT answers.

At the time of her plea, prosecutors recommended four months in prison for the "Desperate Housewives" actress, substantially lower than the maximum 20 years the charges could carry.  They recommended 12 months of supervised release, a $20,000 fine and other undetermined amounts of restitution and forfeiture....

If Huffman and the parents who follow her in court also avoid prison time, some criminal justice advocates said, it would signal to the public that the rich and connected can get away with cheating the system. “The criminal scheme carried out in this case shocks the conscience and underscores the way in which wealthy people can exploit their privileged status to their benefit and to the detriment of others," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "These federal crimes must not be treated lightly in order to send a strong message that no one is above the law and that wealthy people will be held accountable."

Clarke said the crimes committed by parents in the case "undermine public confidence" in the college admissions process and show universities must "redouble their efforts" to ensure diversity on campuses. She noted most of the wealthy parents who participated in the scheme are white.  She called the case a "unique opportunity" to hold accountable individuals "who feel that money, race and privilege can allow them to evade the justice system."

Of the 51 people charged in the college admissions scandal, 34 are parents accused of making significant payments to Singer's sham nonprofit group, the Key Worldwide Foundation.  Prosecutors said they paid to have someone secretly take ACT or SAT tests for their children, change poor results or get them falsely tagged as athletic recruits to get them into college.

Huffman was originally scheduled to be the third parent sentenced in the case, but the sentencing hearings of two other parents who pleaded guilty, Devin Sloane and Stephen Semprevivo, were pushed back to later this month.

The delays will allow U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani, who presides over the cases of Huffman and other parents, to hold a hearing Tuesday on a legal dispute that could determine the severity of some sentences.  The judge will consider whether to listen to probation officers, who identified no financial losses to any victim in the case, which could mean lighter sentences for many parents.  Prosecutors object to the potential lighter sentencing guidelines and do not want Talwani to confer with the probation department in the admissions case....

Both sides are likely to file sentencing memos to the court that will make final arguments and sentencing recommendations to Talwani before next week's hearings. "If there isn't at least a request for a strong sentence, even if it isn't granted, then I think it would seem like there's sort of different justice for different people," said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who specializes in federal courts.  "I do think they will continue to press," he said of the prosecution, "and part of it is to make an example that everybody ought to be equal before law and this is not appropriate behavior."

Because no parents have been sentenced to date in the admissions scandal, Tobias said it's tricky to predict what's in store for Huffman and those sentenced after her. "We'll see what arguments are made and how her defense attorney frames it. That could be important," he said.  "And, if Huffman has more to say that may account for something, too."

Huffman, 56, apologized to the "students who work hard every day to get into college." She fought back tears when she pleaded guilty in court.  One fact that may play in her favor is the substantially lower amount of money she paid compared with other parent defendants.  Singer typically charged parents $15,000 to carry out the test cheating and higher amounts to pay off college coaches to get their children admitted as athletic recruits.  The latter cost more because it guaranteed a child's entry into college.

Sloane, CEO of Los Angeles-based waterTALENT, which builds water systems, pleaded guilty to paying $250,000 in bribes to Singer's organization to falsely designate his son as a water polo player so he could gain acceptance to the University of Southern California. Prosecutors recommended he serve 15 to 21 months in prison.  Semprevivo, an executive at Cydcor, a privately held provider of outsourced sales teams, pleaded guilty to paying $400,000 to Singer to get his son admitted into Georgetown University as a fake tennis recruit. Prosecutors recommended a prison sentence of 18 months for him....

The sentence for Vandemoer, the ex-Stanford sailing coach, was decided by U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel.  She presides over Singer's case but is not assigned to any of the cases involving parents or other coaches. Singer pleaded guilty to four felonies and is cooperating with prosecutors.  Although prosecutors didn't get the sentence they wanted for Vandemoer, the case doesn't necessarily foreshadow how the next round of sentences will go. As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Vandemoer pleaded guilty to racketeering charges.

The case had unique circumstances.  None of the students tied to the payments was admitted into Stanford as a direct result of the coach's actions, leading Zobel to question whether the university suffered any losses.  Vandemoer funneled payments directly to the school's sailing program and did not pocket any of the bribe money he took from Singer. Zobel called Vandemoer "probably the least culpable of all the defendants."

Twenty-three defendants in the college admissions case, including Huffman, pleaded guilty to felonies; 28 others pleaded not guilty, including actress Lori Loughlin.  How the first group of parents is sentenced could affect whether other parents plead guilty or dig in for trial, according to Adam Citron, a former state prosecutor in New York, who practices at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron.

That's the biggest concern for prosecutors, he said. "It could go two ways. If (the parents) are getting jail time even on pleas, a defendant may think to themselves, 'I better plea out because I don't want more jail time,' " Citron said. "By the same token, that defendant might say to themselves, 'I'm going to get jail anyways, so I might as well fight it.' "

Prior related posts:

September 5, 2019 in Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Bernie Madoff seeks from Prez Trump a commutation of his 150-year federal prison sentence for massive Ponzi scheme

Notorious Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff has served less than 10% his 150-year federal prison sentence, but at age 81 he understandably would like to find a way not to die behind bars.  This new NBC News piece, headlined "Bernie Madoff asks Trump to reduce his prison sentence for massive Ponzi scheme," reports on this high-profile offenders making a high-profile request for clemency from Prez Donald Trump.  Here are some details and lots of context:

Bernie Madoff is asking that President Donald Trump reduce his 150-year prison sentence — a a request that Madoff’s prosecutor promptly called “the very definition of chutzpah.”

Madoff, 81, is currently locked up in a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, for orchestrating the largest Ponzi scheme in history.

The decades-long scam conducted while he headed Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities in New York City swindled thousands of investors out of billions of dollars. Madoff, who pleaded guilty to 11 crimes in 2009, is not asking for a pardon from the president. Instead, he is requesting clemency from Trump in the form of a sentence commutation, or reduction, according to an application filed with the Justice Department.

A search of the Justice Department’s website shows that Madoff’s clemency request is “pending.”

If Trump’s previous opinions on Madoff and his family are any indication, the uber-crook faces long odds in winning an early release from prison. Trump, in his 2009 book “Think Like a Champion,” wrote that he said “no” to Madoff’s suggestion that he invest in his fund. “I had enough going on in my own businesses that I didn’t need to be associated or involved with his,” Trump wrote in his book, according to an article at the time in U.S. News & World Report.

In that same book, Trump said he knew a number of people who had invested their life savings with the scamster. “He is without a doubt a sleazebag and a scoundrel without par,” Trump wrote.

The New York Post, citing a source close to the Madoff family, two years ago reported that after Madoff’s conviction, Trump refused to rent his wife Ruth Madoff an apartment in his Manhattan buildings when she was looking for a new place to live.

The Justice Department would not reveal when Bernie Madoff’s request for clemency was submitted. But the department noted that such an application takes between one and three months to appear on the clemency section of the website. It is not known if Trump will consider the request, or when he might do so.

Madoff’s former lawyer, Ira Lee Sorkin, told CNBC he had no information about the request. The White House referred questions about Madoff’s bid for clemency to the Justice Department.

Marc Litt, who was the lead federal prosecutor in the criminal case against Madoff, to CNBC on Wednesday, “Bernard Madoff received a fair and just sentence – one that both appropriately punished him for decades of criminal conduct that caused devastating damage to tens of thousands of victims, and sent a loud and clear message to deter would-be fraudsters.”

“Madoff’s current request is the very definition of chutzpah,” said Litt, who currently is a partner at the law firm Wachtel Missry in New York, where his office overlooks the “Lipstick Building” that formerly housed Madoff’s company. “I’m confident that the career [Justice Department] attorneys responsible for evaluating such requests will reject it out of hand.”

DOJ statistics show that the department received 1,003 petitions for pardons and another 5,657 for sentence commutations that could have been considered by Trump since he was in the White House. Trump has granted 10 pardons and just four commutations.

His pardon recipients include controversial former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, deceased boxer Jack Johnson, conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza, and, most recently, former media mogul Conrad Black, who wrote a biography entitled “Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other.”

Two other pardon recipients, Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven Hammond, also had their prison sentences for arson on federal lands commuted by Trump.

Madoff’s former longtime secretary also is asking Trump for a commutation of her six-year prison term for helping facilitate the Ponzi scheme, according to the Justice Department’s webpage. In January, a federal judge rejected a separate request by that secretary, Annette Bongiorno, 70, to be released into home confinement. Bongiorno has served nearly 4½ years of her prison sentence in a federal facility in New York state.

Peter Madoff, Bernie’s younger brother, pleaded guilty in 2012 to falsifying records at the Madoff investment firm, and to conspiracy to commit securities fraud. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and is due to be released in October 2020. There is no record of a clemency petition from Peter Madoff on the Justice Department’s website.

Ruth Madoff in May agreed to pay $594,000 and to surrender her remaining assets when she dies as part of a settlement of claims by Irving Picard, the court-appointed trustee who for years has tried to recoup money for Madoff’s customers. Ruth Madoff was never charged in connection with her husband’s crimes.

Madoff’s scheme originally was estimated to have lost upward of $65 billion for his investors. But Picard as of last November had recovered more than $13.3 billion of the approximately $17.5 billion of claims by customers who say they were swindled by Madoff’s scheme....

Madoff’s sons have both died since he was locked up. His oldest son, Mark, hanged himself in December 2010, on the second anniversary of his father’s confession to the Madoff family of his crimes. Madoff’s other son, Andrew, died in 2014 after a long battle with a rare form of cancer. Neither Andrew nor Mark were ever charged in connection with their father’s crimes.

July 25, 2019 in Celebrity sentencings, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Federal district judge rejects feds request for significant prison term in first sentencing of college bribery scandal

As reported in this NBC News piece about the first sentencing in a high-profile federal criminal matter, "Stanford University's former sailing coach avoided significant prison time and was sentenced to just one day behind bars on Wednesday for his role in a massive college admissions scandal."  Here is more:

John Vandemoer was the first person to be sentenced in the sweeping corruption scandal that exposed the sophisticated network of college admissions ringleader William Rick Singer, who helped children of well-heeled clients cheat their way into elite universities.

U.S. District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel sided with defense lawyers who said their client should not get more than the one day, which the judge dismissed as time served. The government had asked the judge to sentence Vandemoer to 13 months in prison.

Before Wednesday, Vandemoer had already pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy for accepting $770,000 in bribes in funds that all went into the school's sailing program. The money did not directly line Vandemoer's pockets, the judge and lawyers on both sides agreed. "From what I know about the other cases, there is an agreement that Vandemoer is probably the least culpable of all the defendants in all of these cases," Zobel said. "All the money he got went directly to the sailing program."

In court on Wednesday, Vandemoer's voice choked with emotion as apologized for his actions. "I want to be seen as someone who takes responsibility for mistakes," he said. "I want to tell you how I intend to live from this point forward. I will never again lose sight of my values."...

Vandemoer received three separate payments of $500,000, $110,000 and $160,000 between fall 2016 and October 2018 on behalf of the Stanford sailing program to falsely represent that three clients of Singer's were elite sailors — and thus deserving of special admission to the private school, according to court documents....

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen pleaded with Judge Zobel to send Vandemoer to prison and send a message about the case. "The sentence that you impose will set the tone moving forward," Rosen said. The prosecutor added: "This case goes far beyond John Vandemoer. The damage on Stanford goes much further. The actions undermine the confidence in the college admissions process."

The defense asked for leniency, arguing that the money Vandemoer received didn't go into his pocket, but instead went to a fund that supported Stanford's sailing program. "It cannot be overstated: all parties agree that Mr. Vandemoer did not personally profit from the scheme," defense lawyer Robert Fisher wrote in his sentencing memo to the court. "Mr. Singer sent Mr. Vandemoer money, and he consistently turned that money over to Stanford."...

Zobel also sentenced Vandemoer to two years of supervised release and six months of home confinement. The former coach was also fined $10,000. "I am aware that these are serious offenses," Zobel said. "I find it hard in this case that Vandemoer should go to jail for more than a year."

Of the three students whose parents tried to bribe their way into Stanford, none them actually benefited from Singer and Vandemoer's scheme.  The first one's fake sailing application came too late in the recruiting season and "the student was later admitted to Stanford through the regular application process," according to prosecutors.  The next two opted to go to Brown University and Vanderbilt University, despite Vandemoer's help.

Vandemoer was fired by Stanford on March 12, hours after federal prosecutors unsealed indictments.  "Although Mr. Vandemoer's conduct resulted in donations to the Stanford sailing team, Stanford views those funds as tainted," according to a victim impact statement written to Judge Zobel by Stanford's general counsel, Debra Zumwalt. "Stanford takes no position regarding any specific sentence that this Court may impose."

Because Vandemoer does not pose any real threat to public safety, and because he has already suffered (and will continue to suffer) an array of formal and informal collateral consequences, this sentence certainly strikes me as "sufficient, but not greater than necessary, to comply with the purposes set forth" in federal sentencing law.  I suppose I am not surprised that the feds wanted a significant prison term in this first of many related sentencings, but the recommendation here of 13 months in prison is a reminder that the feds seem to think that just about every convicted defendant ought to be sent to prison for some significant period.

June 12, 2019 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"The Second Step Act should give white-collar criminals a chance after release"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent Washington Examiner commentary authored by Cassie Monaco.  Here are excerpts:

I will also never forget the day I found out that my husband had been charged with a nonviolent criminal offense.  The emotions that I felt and the pain that I had at that very moment are indescribable, not to mention the feelings of utter shock, knowing that your life will never be the same again.  Today, my husband is serving six and a half years at a federal prison in Colorado.

As the wife of an incarcerated individual, I had two choices: Do I indulge in self-pity, or do I channel my energy and emotions into something more productive? I chose the latter. And so I got involved with national advocacy efforts on criminal justice reform, and I created an organization called A Day Closer, with the sole mission of reducing recidivism by keeping families intact while a loved one is incarcerated.

The First Step Act is providing much needed relief and assistance to many of those incarcerated and their families.  It is also restoring dignity back into our very broken criminal justice system.  However, the act still leaves behind a group that oftentimes gets over looked: individuals convicted of white-collar crimes.

I can understand the lack of sympathy out there for many white-collar criminals, but not all of them are bad people.  In addition to admitting their crimes and apologizing to the victims, they are left financially destroyed, with their professional and personal lives ruined forever....

The First Step Act understandably focuses on relief for drug offenders.  But oftentimes, those offenders do not have the burden of restitution once they are out.  The white-collar group, although they are less likely to fall victim to recidivism, will however be saddled with a life sentence in the form of extraordinary restitution.  They will never be completely free, even after time served. This needs to change.

As the national conversation shifts to the Second Step, lawmakers should sponsor and support legislation that provides some relief with regards to restitution amounts. Meanwhile, by executive order, Trump should return the Office of the Pardon Attorney to its former place under the Executive Office of the President.  Finally, Trump should create an independent commission that advises the president on matters related to Executive Clemency.

The goal is simple: give those that have committed white-collar crimes, admitted to their mistakes, and served their time a real chance to start over and rebuild their lives, without being saddled with the burden that excessive restitution creates.

May 22, 2019 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Reentry and community supervision, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (14)

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Summer sentencing (with notable particulars) for first college admission scandal parents to enter pleas in court

This Los Angeles Times article, headlined "Bay Area couple first to plead guilty in college admissions scandal," reports on a huge high-profile federal fraud case now getting ever closer to sentencing for one pair of defendants. Here are the details:

A Northern California couple who secured their daughters’ spots at UCLA and USC with bribes and rigged tests pleaded guilty Wednesday to fraud and money laundering offenses, the first parents to admit their guilt before a judge in an investigation that has sent shivers through circles of Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Hollywood and some of the country’s most elite universities.

Davina Isackson of Hillsborough, Calif., pleaded guilty to one count of fraud conspiracy. Her husband, real estate developer Bruce Isackson, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud conspiracy, one count of money laundering conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. They will be sentenced July 31. In Davina Isackson’s plea agreement, prosecutors recommended a sentence at the low end of federal guidelines that call for 27 to 33 months in prison. For Bruce Isackson, they suggested a sentence at the low end of 37 to 46 months in prison.

Of the 33 parents charged in the investigation, the Isacksons are the only ones to have signed cooperation deals with prosecutors. If prosecutors decide the couple provided useful and credible information, they can recommend that a judge sentence them below the federal guidelines.

Investigators want to learn from the couple who at UCLA and USC knew of an alleged recruiting scheme they used to slip their two daughters into the universities as sham athletes, The Times has reported. The Isacksons’ older daughter, Lauren, was admitted to UCLA as a recruited soccer player, given a jersey number and listed on the team roster as a midfielder for an entire season, despite never having played the sport competitively, prosecutors alleged.

To ensure she got in, they said, her parents transferred $250,000 in Facebook stock to the foundation of Newport Beach college consultant William “Rick” Singer, which Bruce Isackson later wrote off on the couple’s taxes as a charitable gift....

The Isacksons tapped Singer’s “side door” the following year to have their younger daughter admitted to USC as a recruited rower, prosecutors alleged. The couple also availed themselves of Singer’s test-rigging scheme, prosecutors said, in which he bribed SAT and ACT administrators to turn a blind eye to his 36-year-old, Harvard-educated accomplice.

With the help of the accomplice, Mark Riddell, the Isacksons’ younger daughter scored a 31 out of 36 on the ACT, prosecutors said. Her father paid Singer’s foundation $100,000 and wrote it off on taxes as a charitable gift.

I find notable that federal prosecutors think that two+ years of imprisonment is necessary for one of these the Isacksons and that three+ years is necessary for the other in accord with guideline calculations. But, because it appears that these defendants may be providing "substantial assistance," the feds may ultimately be recommending lower sentences as a kind of compensation for this kind of cooperation.

Prior related posts:

May 2, 2019 in Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Noting a notable federal prisoner now benefiting from the FIRST STEP Act's elderly offender home confinement program

The New York Times has this notable new article focused on one notable federal offender now benefiting from the FIRST STEP Act.  The headline of the piece indirectly reveals some of its themes: "He Committed a $300 Million Fraud, but Left Prison Under Trump’s Justice Overhaul."  Here are some excerpts from the piece:

Three weeks ago, a 69-year-old man convicted of bank fraud quietly left a federal prison camp in Cumberland, Md., and moved into a friend’s one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. He was one of the early inmates to benefit from a criminal justice bill signed into law by President Trump.  The law, the First Step Act, offered prisoner rehabilitation programs and overhauled sentencing policies that supporters claimed had a disproportionate effect on poor defendants, especially minorities.

But one person who benefited from the law was Hassan Nemazee, the prisoner at Cumberland, who was once an investor of enormous wealth and who donated heavily to Democratic political causes.  He was a national finance chairman for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and later raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Barack Obama’s first presidential contest.

Mr. Nemazee, who is serving the rest of his sentence in home confinement, acknowledged in interviews that he was not a fan of Mr. Trump, but he felt personally indebted to the president and his aides for pushing through “the most significant prison reform legislation in a generation.”...

Mr. Trump said recently at the White House that “unfair sentencing rules were contributing to the cycle of poverty and crime,” and since the First Step Act’s passage, more than 500 people with “unfair sentences have been released from prison and are free to begin a new life.”  But Mr. Nemazee left prison under a less publicized part of the bill that allows certain offenders who are over 60 and not considered a threat to others to be released into home confinement if they have completed two-thirds of their sentence.

In home confinement, Mr. Nemazee does not wear an ankle bracelet, but officials may call him on a landline late at night or early in the morning to verify he is at home. He may be summoned for a urine test at any time and must submit his weekly schedule for approval, he said.  Still, it feels a lot like freedom.  He may leave his apartment to go to work, the gym, religious services or appointments with his doctors and lawyers. He may also go out to lunch, “which is always a treat, given where I have been the last eight and a half years.”...

The Bureau of Prisons has said that since the bill’s passage, 10 prisoners — of 23 thus far deemed eligible — have been released into home confinement. The bureau would not identify the prisoners or comment on their cases.  Another is reported to be a white-collar criminal named Herman Jacobowitz, 60, who pleaded guilty in Brooklyn in 2005 in another large fraud case and was sentenced to 15 years, according to court papers and a lawyer familiar with the case. Mr. Jacobowitz could not be reached for comment.

Some of many prior related posts on FIRST STEP Act implementation:

April 13, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Finding lessons in the Manafort sentencing and California's capital moratorium

Brandon Garrett has this great new little piece at The New Republic under the headline "Beyond Hard Time: What the disparate reactions to Manafort's sentence and California's death penalty ban reveal about our broken system."  I recommend the piece in full, and here is a taste:

Is it hypocritical to call for less severe sentences for “regular” criminals while decrying leniency for white-collar defendants?  Those debates are now roiling the pundit world, but as a longtime student of disparities in judicial outcomes, I find the basis of the comparison deeply misleading.  The juxtaposition of the Manafort and Newsom stories should prompt us, rather, to question anew the impulse to frame years in prison as the most appropriate response to our most pressing social problems....

Instead of enacting more draconian sentences, we must invest in white-collar law enforcement the same way we invest in other measures to protect public safety.  Consider this: the Internal Revenue Service has had its budget cut over the past decade to the point where audits have decreased by 42 percent and the number of tax fraud cases the agency brings has been cut by nearly 25 percent.  Under such lax enforcement, tax fraud schemes — of the very sort repeatedly carried out by Paul Manafort — are able to thrive.  And while better white-collar crime enforcement is a key, neglected foundation of public safety, the rationale for more sustained and concerted pursuit of white-collar criminals doesn’t end there.  These offenses also pose much broader hazards to our well-being.  They endanger the national economy — and conspiring with other countries endangers national security — on a far greater scale than the harms wrought by drug possession and street crimes.

The way out of the double standard we apply to punishment is to reject the notion that true justice inheres in strictly hewing to a one-size-fits-all model of criminal sentencing. To begin using law enforcement as a means of meaningful social reform, we need, rather, to consistently apply the same standards of enforcement to all types of crime: police far more, prosecute and punish far less, utilize evidence-based treatment, and ask that violators give back and make the community whole.  Harsh sentences don’t deter crime, but changing the focus of our enforcement systems just might.

March 14, 2019 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Mapping out next possible celebrity sentencings in wake of indictment in college admissions scandal

Now that Paul Manafort's sentencings are concluded (basics here and here, new commentary from Ellen Podgor here), perhaps it is time to move on to the next high-profile "celebrity" white-collar case.  Though few cases will have the political intrigue of the Manafort matter, there is plenty of star power surrounding the new indictments yesterday revealing a nationwide conspiracy that facilitated cheating on college entrance exams and the admission of students to elite universities as purported athletic recruits.

For various reasons, I generally tend to avoid making sentencing calculations or predictions before there are convictions.  But this new piece at Law&Crime, headlined "‘I Would Make an Example’: Legal Experts Weigh in on Prison Time Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman Could Face," has various experts already chiming in.  Here is part of the piece:

Huffman allegedly paid The Key Foundation Worldwide $15,000 “to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her oldest daughter,” according to the government’s lengthy indictment.  Loughlin allegedly made $500,000 worth of fake donations to the same charity in order to secure fake rowing profiles for both of her daughters–when neither daughter actually rowed.

So, are these parents actually facing prison time or might they manage to skate? Law&Crime asked the experts and they had answers.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney and current Pace Law Professor Mimi Rocah thinks a little time behind bars is within the realm of possibility.  “Given the amount of money involved for each of them, particularly Loughlin, and the sophistication of the scheme, they would likely be facing jail time,” Rocah told Law&Crime.  “However, it will be within the sentencing Judge’s discretion as to whether to follow the guidelines or not and a lot of different factors will play into that.”

CNN legal analyst, criminal defense attorney and University of Georgia Law Professor Page Pate ventured his guesses as to what any prospective sentences might look like for the embattled actresses. Over the course of a series of emails, Pate said the time served in each case would depend “mostly on the ‘loss amount’ (how much money the government can tie to the alleged fraud)” and explained that “federal sentencing guidelines for fraud are primarily based on the amount of money involved, how sophisticated the fraud was what role the person played in the alleged scheme, and whether they were the ‘leader, middle, [or] low-end.'”

With that in mind, Pate estimated that Full House‘s Loughlin was facing “37-46 months if convicted at trial” and between “27-33 months [if she enters a] guilty plea.”  Since Huffman is alleged to have spent quite a bit less, Pate estimated that the Desperate Housewives actress was facing “12-18 months if convicted at trial” whereas she would be looking at “8-14 months (or possible probation)” if she were to plead guilty.

Julie Rendelman is a former prosecutor and currently a defense attorney working in New York City.... While noting that it was “a bit early” to say anything for sure about potential time behind bars, Rendelman said it was a distinct possibility due to the actress’ high profiles.  “My guess is that if the evidence is as strong as it appears, their attorneys will likely advise them to cooperate with the US attorney’s office to provide information on other individuals in the scheme, and hope that their cooperation along with any potential mitigation will help them to avoid jail time,” Rendelman said.  “Keep in mind, that the government/presiding judge may want to make an example of them to deter the act of using wealth to manipulate the system.”

March 13, 2019 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Rounding up some of many thoughts about Paul Manafort's (first) federal sentence

Lots of folks have had lots and lots to say about Paul Manafort's first federal sentence of 47 months in prison (basics here).  I am disinclined to make any definitive assessment of whether I think justice has been served in this matter until we see the results of his first federal sentencing later this week.  In the meantime, however, I am happy to share a sampling of just some of the copious commentary from notable folks about Manafort's fate to date:

From (former federal prosecutor) Frank Bowman, "The (first) Manafort sentencing"

From (former federal judge) Nancy Gertner, "US sentencing needs reform, but Manafort's 47 months was a strange one"

From (former federal prosecutor) Elie Honig, "A shockingly lenient sentence for Paul Manafort"

From (current defense attorney) David Oscar Markus, "Four years for Paul Manafort is the right sentence"

From (current defense attorney) Rachel Marshall, "I’m a public defender. My clients get none of the sympathy Manafort did."

From (former federal prosecutor) Renato Mariotti, "Racial Bias Doesn’t Fully Explain Manafort’s Sentence. It’s Unchecked Judges."

From (former federal prosecutor) Ken White, "6 Reasons Paul Manafort Got Off So Lightly"

March 10, 2019 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Paul Manafort given (only?) 47 months in prison at first federal sentencing

I worried that my prediction this morning that Paul Manafort would get 100 months at his first federal sentencing was a little low.  Turns out, I was way too high: he got only 47 months today.   Here are some details from The Hill:

A federal judge on Thursday sentenced former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to 47 months in prison, well below the amount recommended in sentencing guidelines. The sentence handed down by Judge T.S. Ellis III, a Reagan appointee, was significantly less than the 19.5 to 24 years advised in federal guidelines.

Ellis, in remarks from the bench, described Manafort’s financial crimes as “very serious” but said the guideline range was “not at all appropriate,” and pointed to significantly more-lenient sentences handed down in similar cases.

Manafort, who turns 70 next month, appeared in court in a wheelchair and wore a green jumpsuit. His prison sentence will include time served, meaning nine months will be knocked off for the time he has already spent in jail. As a result, he will be incarcerated for three years and two months.

He was also ordered to pay a $50,000 fine and up to $24 million in restitution.

“You’ve been convicted of serious crimes -- very serious crimes -- by a jury,” Ellis said to a packed courtroom after a lengthy sentencing hearing in federal court in Alexandria, Va., that lasted nearly three hours. However, he added, “I think that sentencing range is excessive. I don’t think that is warranted in this case.”

Manafort’s attorneys earlier this month asked for leniency, citing their client’s age, poor health, low risk of reoffending and assistance in Mueller’s probe. On Thursday, defense attorney Thomas Zehnle pointed to other cases in which defendants received much less prison time for similar crimes.

In remarks shortly before receiving his sentence, Manafort described himself as “humiliated and ashamed” of his behavior and for the pain he had caused his family. He thanked Ellis for a fair trial twice and asked him for compassion. “My life professionally and financially is in shambles,” Manafort said. “To say that I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement,” “I intend to turn my notoriety into a positive.”

However, Manafort did not express remorse for his actions -- something Ellis noted before handing down the punishment. “I was surprised that I did not hear you express regret,” said Ellis. “That doesn’t make any difference on the judgment that I am about to make … but I hope you reflect on that.”

Manafort was convicted by a jury in August of eight criminal charges -- five counts of filing false tax returns, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to report foreign bank accounts. The financial crimes were uncovered during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. His case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia marked the first criminal trial in the Mueller probe. But as the defense noted, Manafort’s crimes had nothing to do with Russian election meddling or collusion with the Trump campaign....

To avoid a second criminal trial on separate charges in Washington, D.C., Manafort reached a plea deal with Mueller that involved his full cooperation with federal prosecutors. But the federal judge presiding over his case in D.C. found that he lied to investigators and a federal grand jury about subjects “material” to Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling and possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Manafort was initially scheduled for sentencing in early February, but Ellis postponed the hearing to let Judge Amy Berman Jackson in D.C. determine whether Manafort’s misstatements were unintentional, as he had argued. Ellis said at the time he thought Jackson’s ruling could impact his own sentencing of Manafort.

Sentencing in the D.C. case is scheduled for Wednesday. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct justice by tampering with witnesses. Jackson will decide whether he should serve those years consecutively or concurrently with the ones handed down by Ellis.

Manafort could walk free from federal punishment if President Trump decides to pardon him, but it’s unclear whether the president plans to pursue that avenue. The New York Times recently reported that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is planning to bring state charges against Manafort regardless.

A few quick points in reaction:

1.  Though I do not know exactly when Manafort will get out, I can confidently predict he will not serve exactly 47 months for two reasons: (a) he may get consecutive time at his next sentencing next week (and I suspect he will), and (b) he will surely earn good-time credits and perhaps have others means of getting released earlier as an elderly offender. (Good-time credit alone could get him seven months off possibly resulting in his release before the end of 2021 on the sentence he received today).

2.  I have already seen lots of Twitter commentary complaining this sentence is way too lenient, but I sense many of the complaints really stem from folks rightly seeing a lot of other sentences as way too harsh.  Title 18 USC § 3553(a) calls upon a federal judge to impose a sentence "sufficient, but not greater than necessary, to comply with" traditional sentencing purposes.  I have a hard time developing forceful arguments that a nearly four-year prison term for a nearly 70-year-old man, plus a $50,000 fine and $24 million in restitution, is not sufficient in response to a nonviolent crime.

3.  Roughly a decade ago, when Bernie Madoff got a max sentence of 150 years, I speculated in this post about prosecutors using that high number as a sentencing benchmark in all sorts of other white-collar cases.  Now I am thinking that Paul Manafort has produced a new kind of white-collar sentencing benchmark that now should be of great use to defense attorneys.  Notably, not only was Manafort facing a guideline range of 19.5 to 24 years, but he went to trial and never fully accepted responsibility or even showed remorse.  "If unremorseful Manafort only merited 47 months in prison," so the argument should go from many defense attorneys, "this white-collar defendant should get even less."

March 7, 2019 in Clemency and Pardons, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (17)

Any bold predictions for Paul Manafort's (first) sentencing hearing?

As reported in this Reuters piece, "President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort will be sentenced by a U.S. judge in Virginia on Thursday for bank and tax fraud uncovered during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election."  Here is more reporting setting the basic context:

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis could deliver effectively a life sentence to Manafort, 69, if he follows federal sentencing guidelines cited by prosecutors that call for 19-1/2 to 24 years in prison for the eight charges the veteran Republican political consultant was convicted of by a jury in Alexandria last August. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for 3:30 p.m....

Manafort was convicted after prosecutors accused him of hiding from the U.S. government millions of dollars he earned as a consultant for Ukraine’s former pro-Russia government. After pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster, prosecutors said, Manafort lied to banks to secure loans and maintain an opulent lifestyle with luxurious homes, designer suits and even a $15,000 ostrich-skin jacket.

Manafort faces sentencing in a separate case in Washington on March 13 on two conspiracy charges to which he pleaded guilty last September. While he faces a statutory maximum of 10 years in the Washington case, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson potentially could stack that on top of whatever prison time Ellis imposes in Virginia, rather than allowing the sentences to run concurrently. Jackson on Feb. 13 ruled that Manafort had breached his agreement to cooperate with Mueller’s office by lying to prosecutors about three matters pertinent to the Russia probe including his interactions with a business partner they have said has ties to Russian intelligence. Jackson’s ruling could impact the severity of his sentence in both cases....

Mueller’s charges led to the stunning downfall of Manafort, a prominent figure in Republican Party circles for decades who also worked as a consultant to such international figures as former Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and Yanukovych.

Defense lawyers have asked Ellis to sentence Manafort to between 4-1/4 and 5-1/4 years in prison. They are expected to tell the judge Manafort is remorseful and that the sentencing guidelines cited by prosecutors call for a prison term disproportionate to the offenses he committed. “The Special Counsel’s attempt to vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts before this court,” his lawyers wrote in their sentencing memo.

Prosecutors have not suggested a specific sentence. Mueller’s office, in court filings, said that only Manafort is to blame for his crimes, that he has shown no remorse and that his lies to prosecutors after his guilty plea should be taken into account. “The defendant blames everyone from the Special Counsel’s Office to his Ukrainian clients for his own criminal choices,” prosecutors wrote.

Manafort will be sentenced by a judge who faced criticism by some in the legal community for making comments during the trial that were widely interpreted as biased against the prosecution. Ellis repeatedly interrupted prosecutors, told them to stop using the word “oligarch” to describe people associated with Manafort because it made him seem “despicable,” and objected to pictures of Manafort’s luxury items they planned to show jurors. “It isn’t a crime to have a lot of money and be profligate in your spending,” Ellis told prosecutors.

In my very first post on this case back in October 2017 right after Paul Manafort was indicted, I noted the guideline calculations that would likely mean he was going to be facing at least 10 years of imprisonment if he were convicted of any of the most serious charges against him.  Now, roughly a year and half later, I am tempted to set the "over-under" prediction on his sentence slightly below 10 years.  Though it is hardly a bold prediction, I will here predict that Judge Ellis will impose a sentence somewhere around 100 months.  

Anyone else have predictions or prescriptions for today's high-profile federal sentencing?

Some prior related posts:

March 7, 2019 in Celebrity sentencings, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

"Paul Manafort should not be sentenced to 20 years in prison"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Hill commentary authored by David Oscar Markus. Here are excerpts:

A jury has spoken on Paul Manafort. He was found guilty, and he should be punished. But his reported sentencing guideline range of 19.5-24.5 years is a good example of how our criminal justice system has lost its way.

Once, when trials were common, our system was the envy of the world. Now, trials almost never occur. (In the 1980s, over 20 percent of cases went to trial while less than 3 percent proceed to trial today). The reason is simple: defendants who go to trial and lose in today’s system now suffer “the trial penalty,” and receive a much more severe — sometimes decades longer — sentence simply for exercising a fundamental Constitutional right to trial.

Even innocent people plead guilty because of the risk/reward analysis that all defendants consider. The risks of going to trial have become way too high. You can plead guilty and get probation or go to jail for a manageable amount of time. But if you go to trial and lose... well, you’ll be crushed.

A jury found Manafort guilty of tax and related offenses, but suggesting that a 20 year sentence is appropriate in this case is just wrong. Twenty years! Manafort is a 69-year old, first-time offender. If the judge sentences him to anywhere in that range, he will most likely leave prison in a box.

Make no mistake, the sentencing range is that high only because Manafort had the audacity to make the government actually prove its case at a trial. Does going to trial warrant a sentence 15 years longer than his co-defendant, Rick Gates? Rick Gates hasn’t been sentenced yet, but his sentencing range is around 5 years. And he will most likely get a sentence much lower than that because of his cooperation. His lawyers will certainly ask for probation as have numerous other cooperators in the Special Counsel’s cases.

Some will respond that Gates should get less time than Manafort because he is less culpable and decided to cooperate. That’s of course true. But that doesn’t mean that Manafort should get 20 years simply because he had the temerity to go to trial.

The truth is that being less culpable becomes a minor factor when the trial penalty comes into play. There are many examples of the least culpable defendant getting the highest sentence solely because of the trial penalty. One such victim of the trial penalty was James Olis, a securities fraud defendant who worked at Dynegy Corporation in Houston, Texas. Olis was sentenced to 24 years in prison after trial, while his boss who testified against him received about a year.

Before trial, Olis had been offered 6 months in exchange for pleading guilty and cooperating. Olis’ lawyer, David Gerger, predicted: “If there’s a 20-year penalty for going to trial, then innocent as well as guilty people will simply decide they have to give up their right to a trial.” He was right. The case was ultimately reversed, and Olis was resentenced to 6 years. Until the reversal, prosecutors in Houston expressly mentioned Olis to any fraud defendant who wouldn’t plead. The line went something like this: “You can plead or risk ending up like Olis.”  Prosecutors in every district have their own “Olis line.”

Some prior related posts:

February 17, 2019 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, February 15, 2019

Special Counsel's office files sentencing memorandum for Paul Manafort seemingly supporting guideline range of 235 to 293 months' imprisonment

As reported in this Politico article, headlined "Mueller: Manafort deserves 19.5 to 24.5 years in prison for Virginia convictions, Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed this submission "to address the sentencing of defendant Paul J. Manafort, Jr."  The Politico piece, along with lots of other press accounts, report that "Robert Mueller’s office recommended on Friday that Paul Manafort get up to 24-and-a-half years in prison for his conviction last summer for financial malfeasance."  But a careful read of the submission reveals that there is no firm sentencing recommendation in the memo, rather its introduction and conclusion includes these passages hedging a bit:

As an initial matter, the government agrees with the guidelines analysis in the Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) and its calculation of the defendant’s Total Offense Level as 38 with a corresponding range of imprisonment of 235 to 293 months, a fine range of $50,000 to $24,371,497.74, a term of supervised release of up to five years, restitution in the amount of $24,815,108.74, and forfeiture in the amount of $4,412,500.

Second, while the government does not take a position as to the specific sentence to be imposed here, the government sets forth below its assessment of the nature of the offenses and the characteristics of the defendant under Title 18, United States Code, Section 3553(a). The defendant stands convicted of the serious crimes of tax fraud, bank fraud, and failing to file a foreign bank account report.  Manafort was the lead perpetrator and a direct beneficiary of each offense.  And while some of these offenses are commonly prosecuted, there was nothing ordinary about the millions of dollars involved in the defendant’s crimes, the duration of his criminal conduct, or the sophistication of his schemes.  Together with the relevant criminal conduct, Manafort’s misconduct involved more than $16 million in unreported income resulting in more than $6 million in federal taxes owed, more than $55 million hidden in foreign bank accounts, and more than $25 million secured from financial institutions through lies resulting in a fraud loss of more than $6 million.  Manafort committed these crimes over an extended period of time, from at least 2010 to 2016. His criminal decisions were not momentary or limited in time; they were routine.  And Manafort’s repeated misrepresentations to financial institutions were brazen, at least some of which were made at a time when he was the subject of significant national attention.

Neither the Probation Department nor the government is aware of any mitigating factors. Manafort did not commit these crimes out of necessity or hardship.  He was well educated, professionally successful, and financially well off.  He nonetheless cheated the United States Treasury and the public out of more than $6 million in taxes at a time when he had substantial resources. Manafort committed bank fraud to supplement his liquidity because his lavish spending exhausted his substantial cash resources when his overseas income dwindled....

In the end, Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars.  The sentence here should reflect the seriousness of these crimes, and serve to both deter Manafort and others from engaging in such conduct....

For a decade, Manafort repeatedly violated the law.  Considering only the crimes charged in this district, they make plain that Manafort chose to engage in a sophisticated scheme to hide millions of dollars from United States authorities.  And when his foreign income stream dissipated in 2015, he chose to engage in a series of bank frauds in the United States to maintain his extravagant lifestyle, at the expense of various financial institutions.  Manafort chose to do this for no other reason than greed, evidencing his belief that the law does not apply to him.  Manafort solicited numerous professionals and others to reap his ill-gotten gains.  The sentence in this case must take into account the gravity of this conduct, and serve to both specifically deter Manafort and those who would commit a similar series of crimes.

Some prior related posts:

February 15, 2019 in Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Paul Manafort facing potentially longer sentence after judge concludes he failed to comply with plea deal

As reported in this new Politco piece, a "federal judge ruled partly in favor of special counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday that Paul Manafort violated the terms of his guilty plea by lying to federal prosecutors and a grand jury." Here is more and why this is ultimately a sentencing story:

The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson confirms some of Mueller’s latest set of charges against the former Donald Trump campaign chairman that he lied during guilty-plea-stipulated cooperation sessions about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime aide alleged to have ties to Russian intelligence.  Jackson, however, ruled that Mueller had “failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence” that Manafort intentionally made a false statement about his contacts with the Trump administration.

The judge’s four-page ruling against Manafort [which is available here] means the 69-year old political operative will likely get an even stiffer penalty at his March 13 sentencing hearing in Washington, D.C., federal court.  She said Mueller was “no longer bound by its obligations under the plea agreement” terms he’d reached with Manafort in September, including the special counsel’s pledge to support a less-stringent sentence.

Manafort had previously been on track to get a 10-year cap on his prison sentence in his D.C. case under the terms of the original plea deal he struck with Mueller, which limited the charges he faced to conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct justice while dropping foreign-lobbying and money-laundering charges.

The plea agreement had also called for Manafort to serve time concurrently from his D.C. case with any sentence he gets from his convictions in Alexandria, Va., on charges of bank and tax fraud.  But with Jackson’s order on Wednesday, Mueller is now free to recommend that Manafort serve his sentences consecutively.

Both Jackson and U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III, who presided in Manafort’s trial in Virginia and had postponed sentencing until the dispute over the lying charges was resolved, will have the final say in the decision on whether he serves back-to-back or simultaneous sentences.

Some prior related posts:

February 13, 2019 in Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)