Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Brent Wilkes, the former owner of defense contractor ADCS, was convicted for paying bribes to former Congressman Randy (Duke) Cunningham to obtain contracts for his company. The Presentence Report filed in the case recommends a 720-month sentence -- that would be sixty years for those who (like me) are a bit math challenged. Wow! That is by far the longest prison sentence I've ever seen recommended for a corruption defendant, and dwarfs the extensive sentences seen in corporate fraud cases, like those received by former CEOs Bernie Ebbers (25 years) and Jeffrey Skilling (24+ years). Cunningham received a 100-month prison term, and Wilkes will definitely pay the price for going to trial if he receives anything close to the PSR recommendation. Moreover, note that this is the Probation Office's recommendation in the PSR and not the position of the U.S. Attorney's Office, which can be expected -- despite the unseemliness of this approach -- to seek the highest potential sentence, thus fulfilling its role as an advocate. Recommendations in the PSR usually carry great weight with the court, and even if U.S. District Judge Larry Burns does not accept the entire set of suggestions under the Sentencing Guidelines, I suspect Wilkes is looking at a sentence that may well put him in jail for much of the rest of his life.
How did the Probation Office get to this point? The sentencing recommendation is discussed in a filing by Wilkes (available below). Under the Guidelines, Sec. 2C1.1 governs bribery cases, and the starting point is an offense level of 18 because the bribe was paid to an elected official. The bulk of the sentencing increase comes from the estimation of the gain from the bribe, which requires application of the fraud loss table of Sec. 2B1.1. The PSR recommends a twenty-level enhancement, which means the gain to Wilkes and ADCS from the bribes was between $7 million and $20 million. Throw in a two-level increase for obstruction of justice -- Wilkes testified at trial and was convicted on all counts by the jury, so there's a decent ground for this enhancement -- and another four levels for leadership role, and you've got the very top of the Guidelines (it only goes to 43) that calls for a life sentence.
The sentencing was originally set for January 28, but the PSR did not arrive in time so Judge Burns has pushed it back to February 19, thus meeting the statutory 35-day period between receipt of the Report and the sentencing. Wilkes' counsel, Mark Geragos, will have to take aim at the gain amount, and unless that figure is reduced substantially, Wilkes is looking at a sentence that could be greater than any we've seen to date in a federal white collar crime case. In its response to the defense motion for a delay in sentencing, the government asked the district court to take Wilkes into custody on the original sentencing date because he is likely to receive a prison term and does not meet the requirements for bail pending appeal. If Judge Burns does sentence Wilkes to a significant prison sentence, it would not surprise me if Wilkes was ordered to be taken into custody immediately because of the severity of the punishment and possible concerns about flight in light of the sentence. (ph)