Former Republican County Commissioner Mary Buckelew was sentenced to three years probation, community service, and a $20,000 fine yesterday after pleading guilty to obstructing justice by lying to a grand jury about taking gifts from investment banker Bill Blount. The prosecution had asked for a six month sentence and a $30,000 fine.
So the white Republican lady avoids prison. Former County Commissioner Gary White, the other prominent white Republican implicated thus far, was convicted in January 2008 of taking envelopes full of cash from an engineering firm buying sewer business from the county. He managed to persuade a judge to overturn his conviction and give him a change of venue, but his retrial has yet to take place.
Black Democrat Chris McNair was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison and an $850,000 fine in 2007, but he has yet to serve a day. Black Democrat Jeff Germany is, thus far, the only defendant in the sewer/financing debacle to do time; he was released in September after serving 32 months and three weeks. Black Democrat Larry Langford faces a potential 800+ years after he was convicted on 60 corruption counts; his co-defendants-turned-accusers Bill Blount and Al LaPierre have yet to be sentenced but cut deals to ensure relatively short prison stays.
Kyle Whitmire, who knows a whole lot more about the area’s federal judges than I, offers an explanation (in comments) for Buckelew’s slap on the wrist:
The disparity between the sentence Buckelew received and the sentence Langford will likely receive (best guesses are between 15 and 25 years) has little to do with race and much to do with the judge.
The most discouraging thing I’ve taken away from covering federal courts is how arbitrary sentencing can be. If you’re a defendant, the sentence you face depends almost completely on which judge you draw.
There are some judges who don’t seem to believe that public corruption and white collar crime should be against the law. I’d put U.S. District Judge Inge Johnson in that camp. During the sentencing, she went so far as to say that the shoes, handbag and spa trip were of little concern to her.
Other judges, including U.S. District Judges Virginia Hopkins and Scott Coogler (who Langford drew) tend to sentence on the high side of the scale.
That sucks — not because Langford is likely to get a long sentence but because Buckelew isn’t going to do any time at all. She sold out cheap, but she still sold out, a point the prosecution made quite effectively in the Langford trial.
During opening arguments, [defense attorney Mike] Rasmussen had stacked seven file boxes in front of the jury to represent the $7 million Blount received in the scheme. Rasmussen then showed jurors a small box about large enough to hold a sleeve of business cards. That box represented Langford’s take. The defense used the proportion (or disproportion) between Langford’s $235,000 and Blount’s $7 million to argue there had been no agreement.
Concluding the prosecution’s case, Martin held another small box in front of the jury. It was about the same size as the box Rasmussen showed them the week before. He reminded the jury of Rasmussen’s boxes and Martin said he had known from the beginning of the trial what he would say to them in the end.
“Langford isn’t supposed to have a box — at all,” Martin said. “If he does, it’s dishonest.”
Buckelew isn’t supposed to have a box either, no matter that the box only contains a purse, some shoes, and a trip to the spa.