Soft sentences send wrong message on corruption
Federal judges seem to have gotten the message about the need to slam corporate criminals who engage in high-level financial chicanery. Previous softball sentences have been ratcheted up to double-digits, and the punishment is not only appropriate but sends a clear message of deterrence.
But the federal judiciary, at least in Illinois, still hasn't gotten the message that political corruption deserves the same treatment.
The latest example came this week in the courtroom of U.S. Judge James Moran, a former Democratic member of the state Legislature.
Moran sentenced Robert Creamer, the former head of Illinois Public Action and the husband of Democratic U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, to five months in prison after he pleaded guilty to tax violations and operating a long-running check-kiting scheme. The judge also ordered Creamer to serve 11 months of home confinement.
Federal sentencing guidelines, formerly mandatory but now advisory, called for a sentence of roughly three years. The conditions of Creamer's home confinement, according to news reports, allow Creamer to travel as part of his political consulting business.
When Creamer was indicted, he and his wife claimed he was a victim of a political prosecution because of his zeal to serve the poor. Creamer has worked on a variety of liberal causes, but the check-kiting provided funds for his six-figure salary.
And despite his claims of political persecution, it turns out that the feds had warned Creamer about his check-kiting previously and gave him a pass. How many citizens get that kind of treatment?
At his sentencing, Creamer reiterated his dedication to helping the poor, and his advocates argued that no bank had lost any money. Left unmentioned was that the money was not repaid until after Creamer was indicted. Finally, before imposing sentencing, Judge Moran read many letters of praise from Creamer and Schakowsky's influential friends, like U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.
In fashioning the sentence as he did, Judge Moran indicated that he thought he was hitting Creamer hard. He didn't. That sentence carries no real message of deterrence, and there won't be any real deterrence in Illinois or anywhere else until federal judges start slamming the political miscreants who come before them.