Former IRS agent sentenced in arson

November 09, 1990|By Kelly Gilbert | Kelly Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

Former IRS agent and Bethesda accountant Joel D. Davis has been sentenced to 18 years in federal prison for masterminding a murder-for-hire plot against an IRS agent and a 1980 arson fire at an Orthodox Jewish resort he owned in New York.

Davis, 48, received the sentence from Judge Walter E. Black Jr. in U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday in a courtroom packed with IRS officials and the defendant's friends and relatives.

Court officials said Davis will serve nine to 12 years before he can be paroled. Black allowed Davis to remain free on $250,000 bail pending his voluntary surrender Jan. 7, 1991.

Davis, in a statement read by defense lawyer Joshua R. Treem, expressed "deep anguish and terror" for the murder scheme, called his criminal acts "foolish and irresponsible" and said he had ruined his life and his career.

"I am prepared to devote my energies to the public good. . . . Somewhere I stumbled, and I deeply regret my actions," the statement said.

Prosecutors Gregg L. Bernstein and Peter M. Semel recommended a 15-year sentence on the murder-conspiracy count and concurrent prison terms on charges of mail fraud and racketeering.

Bernstein said the intended murder victim, IRS agent W. Stewart Connard, and other government employees "need to know they don't have to look over their shoulders in fear while they're doing their jobs."

Black accepted the government's recommended sentence on the murder-conspiracy count but added a consecutive three-year term for the other offenses.

Black called the murder plot "totally beyond the bounds of acceptability" and said the sentences should be separate because the murder and arson plots were unrelated.

Davis fled to Israel in 1982 while he was under investigation for the aborted murder attempt against Connard, who uncovered massive irregularities in a two-year audit of the defendant's tax returns.

The defendant was extradited from Israel last fall to face charges in the 1985 case which was tied to the 1980 arson fire at Torahtowne, a bungalow resort in upstate New York.

Treem and co-counsel Robert Schulman had asked Black to impose a five-year term in a minimum-security prison, plus "lengthy" community service on the defendant.

They said Davis lived an open, spartan life with his family near the Western Wall in Jerusalem while he fought extradition.

The attorneys said Davis ran a small business in Israel, served in the Israel Defense Force and rediscovered his religion while he was there, and now is truly remorseful.

Bernstein and Semel countered that it "was merely fortuitous and good fortune" that the murder plot was thwarted because a co-conspirator told authorities about it.

Semel also discounted the defense's description of Davis' Jerusalem apartment as "modest." Semel said Davis and his family lived in the Jewish quarter, one of the most expensive areas in the old city.

Davis pleaded guilty to the murder-conspiracy charge in July, after a federal appeals court denied his 11th-hour attempt to get it dismissed.

He sought Connard's murder after the agent confronted him with evidence that he had failed to file tax returns in 1978 and 1979, used a forged document to take an illegal tax shelter deduction and took illicit tax-shelter deductions for four other people, including his father and brother-in-law.

A jury convicted Davis of the racketeering and mail-fraud counts in May. Those counts stemmed from Davis' hiring of Douglas Sanders, a four-time convicted felon, to set fire to a portion of Torahtowne, so Davis could collect a $168,500 insurance claim.

Sanders hired arsonist John W. Zarou to set the fire.

Zarou testified that Sanders told him to paint swastikas and an anti-Jewish slogan at the arson site to make it look like the work of anti-Semites.

Sanders testified that the swastika-slogan idea came from Davis, who at the time was president and treasurer of the Yeshiva High School of Greater Washington in Montgomery County. Sanders also testified that he had hired another man for Davis to set a fire at the Yeshiva school in 1977.

Davis also faces about $1 million in back taxes, penalties and interest in a tax court case filed by the IRS, and is the defendant in a civil racketeering suit in which an insurance company wants to collect treble damages for its payoff of Davis' claim after the Torahtown arson fire.

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