Friday, March 3, 2006

Former Rep. Cunningham Receives 100 Month Prison Term

Former Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a Viet-Nam fighter ace and five-term Congressman before his 2005 resignation, received a sentence of eight years and four months after pleading guilty to corruption and tax evasion charges.  The sentence, the longest ever given a former member of Congress for conduct related to office, fell between the ten-year maximum prosecutors sought and the six years recommended by defense counsel.  As part of the plea agreement, Cunningham's sentence was capped at ten years, and if he were to cooperate in the pending prosecution of three others who paid him the approximately $2.4 million in bribes he received, he could be eligible for a sentence reduction under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35.  An auction of the items acquired with the bribes, and gifts given to secure government contracts, will be auctioned in the near future, and Cunningham has also been ordered to pay $1.8 million in back taxes and penalties.  This is quite a fall from grace, but the misuse of authority for naked personal gain at the cost of awarding contracts that were unneeded by the military is among the most brazen seen in recent history.  An AP story (here) discusses the sentencing. (ph)

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Eight years four months for Cunningham for $2.4 million in bribes.   Not a case of no intent, not a case of not understanding the law, and not a case of walking a fine line in the corporate  world.

The sentencing guidelines were established to achieve uniformity.  Is this sentence uniform with those of Bernie Ebbers (25 years),  John Rigas (15 years), Timothy Rigas (20 years).  And based on this sentence, what should Jamie Olis now receive as his sentence?

(esp)

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Comments

8 years and 4 mos for 2.4 million in bribes....compared to 24 plus years for Jamie Olis, who did not benefit one dollar. UNBELIEVEABLE! You would think that a Congressman would know better. He will probably be sent to a country club jail. I believe Jamie Olis should be let go with time served.

Posted by: p.barilow | Mar 4, 2006 10:18:42 AM

But Olis was sentenced after trial, Cunningham worked out a plea to avoid a trial. I am not saying it was not a sweet deal, but I think comparing cooperative plea deals to sentence after trial is like comparing apples to oranges. Maybe Cunningham's plea in contrast Olis' after trial sentencing will inspire others to be cooperative.

Posted by: VernMcC | Mar 5, 2006 5:08:14 AM

VernM- Your suggestion is at the very core of this very troubling issue. When the penalty for requiring the government to prove their case in trial is so strikingly disparate and extreme in comparison to the punishment when pleading guilty, then a guilty plea becomes the only safe route to confront an accusation from the government. What about the innocent who are accused and face an extreme penalty for maintaining their innocence? The smart money is on pleading guilty anyway and helping the government convict someone else- that someone else could be any of us. The thing is that innocent people who believe in the system wind up not being very "smart" and are the ones who refuse deals and wind up paying the extreme penalty. So our government then rationalizes leaving us with those accomodating liars (either you lied before or you are lying now) to enjoy freedom they have earned from them by saying what the government wants to hear and by helping imprison another. Who can risk claiming innocence in these business conspiracy cases when it is not about the smoking gun in your top drawer and the bloody splotches in the trunk but about government cooperators' newly claimed "recollections" of what someone said, what they meant, the tone of their voice, the look on their faces all now interpreted in hindsight, many years later and with freedom and a token restitution deal the hugely valuable compensation in return. Mr. Olis gets 24+ years without putting a penny in his pocket while working for a company that continues to be viable. Contrast to those who have pled guilt--his boss, less than 1 year- the named but unindicted CFO, Chief accountant, partners of an influential law firm- all zero penalty even though they were never required to (and effectively barred from) state their knowledge of the facts and never had to claim their guilt or innocence. By the way, two persons who pled guilt to trading arms to terrorists for drugs, received less than 5 years. All these sentences were by this same judge and all sanctioned and literally controlled by government prosecutors. When will we start requiring this system to make some sense and give the innocent (those who don't have $20+ million to defend themselves) a real fighting chance? Is the DOJ so afraid that they would lose their extreme control in allowing individually-motivated prosecutors to hand select the guilty that they won't allow an innocent person a fair chance at a trial? I know.. silly question.

Posted by: FJO | Mar 6, 2006 11:15:27 AM

Former Rep. Cunningham is a stunning example of how excess of available money and a greedy instinct can lead a person to ignore their "moral compass," their own self-interests, and believe that they are virtually "invincible" to prosecution. Although this is a very sad story of a once honorable man who elected to break the law, his punishment (8yrs +) - given his advanced age - is likely sufficient.

The more interesting question is, "How many Duke Cunninghams are out there evading the notice of prosecutors?" Given the news of widespread politial corruption, I'm guessing that he is only one of a much larger group who merit scrutiny.

Posted by: DJ | Mar 8, 2006 4:32:53 PM

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