From the pages of the Wall Street Journal today: Worldcom fraudster Bernie Ebbers got a 25 year sentence. Enron’s Jeff Skilling got a little more than 24 years (though his sentence was later vacated). Tyco’s Dennis Kozlowski got between just over 8 to 25 years.
So why is the government pushing a life sentence for Sholom Rubashkin, the former head of the kosher meat-processing plant that was raided in 2008 for immigration violations?
In November, Rubashkin was convicted of 86 counts of federal bank fraud in connection with loans to the company, Agriprocessors.
It was a big conviction, likely worthy of a big sentence. But life?
A group of former U.S. attorneys general – Janet Reno, William Barr, Richard Thornburgh, Edwin Meese III, Ramsey Clark and Nicholas Katzenbach – recently wrote a letter to the federal judge overseeing the case, Linda Reade, asking her not to impose a life sentence. In the letter, the former AGs called the government’s request “extreme,” and cautioned against the “potentially severe injustice” that could result. Click here for the NYT story; here for a recent opinion piece in the Des Moines Register by New York lawyer Harlan Protass arguing why a life sentence is too long.
In defense of their position, writes the NYT, prosecutors have alluded to Rubaskin’s “blatant lawlessness, utter lack of remorse, his egregious and repeated attempts to obstruct justice.”
But a life sentence? “We cannot fathom how truly sound and sensible sentencing rules could call for a life sentence – or anything close to it – for Mr. Rubashkin, a 51-year-old, first-time, nonviolent offender,” wrote the former AGs in their letter.
Protass notes that the federal sentencing guidelines can recommend some awfully high sentences when it comes to financial fraud. Writes Protass:
When it comes to large-scale fraud cases – like that in which Rubashkin was involved – the guidelines’ grounding in mathematics sometimes results in sentences disconnected from any common sentencing sense. Indeed, they fall within the realm of prison terms usually reserved for Mafia bosses, major international drug traffickers and terrorists.
Defense lawyers have asked Judge Reade to impose a six-year sentence, emphasizing that the sentence urged by prosecutors is longer than that received by Ebbers and Skilling.