Retired CIA agent Thomas C. Clines has been sentenced to 16 months in federal prison and fined $40,000 for hiding part of his Iran-contra income from the IRS.
The sentence was levied by Judge Norman P. Ramsey late yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The prison term is the harshest imposed on any of the eight convicted Iran-contra participants.
Clines' term is nearly three times that of the six-month term given John Poindexter, the former White House aide who was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of Congress and related charges last April. Most of the other defendants have been sentenced to probation or given suspended prison terms.
Clines' fine is second only to the $150,000 fine imposed on Iran-contra principal Oliver L. North. North's fine and suspended three-year prison term were vacated by an appeals panel last July, but independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh has asked the full appellate court to reconsider that decision.
Ramsey also ordered Clines, 62, of Middleburg, Va., to pay the costs of his prosecution. A spokeswoman for Walsh's office said she had no idea what that amount would be.
Clines is the highest-ranking CIA official ever convicted of felony charges. A trial jury convicted him in September of filing false tax returns for 1985 and 1986, failing to report his foreign financial holdings to the IRS and failing to file IRS forms for those accounts.
The criminal charges stemmed from his work with former Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord in "the Enterprise," a secret arms-for-profit group masterminded by North that sold guns to Iran and the contras in 1985 and 1986 after Congress barred military aid to the Nicaraguan rebels.
Prosecutors estimated that Clines made at least $882,000 in the arms deals, much of it in cash, and paid taxes only on those amounts he thought the IRS could trace.
Trial evidence showed that much of the money was secreted in a Swiss investment account under the alias "C. Tea," although Clines had hundreds of thousands of dollars wired to his banks in the United States at various times.
Clines, who after his trial called the case "selective prosecution," said yesterday he has accepted his conviction even though "in my conscience I did not believe I was guilty."
"For forty years, I have demonstrated that I will accept any mission to preserve our American liberty and values," he told the judge. "I have fought our enemies all over this world, risking my life many times. This has all been done at great sacrifice, giving up a normal family life which meant very much to me."
Clines said he is "drained physically, mentally and financially" and has "paid a heavy price" for his Iran-contra involvement.
"My country, my family . . . and my reputation mean everything in this world to me," Clines said. "I plead with you to grant leniency and enable me to return to my family and friends, and to regain some trust and respect."
"No one can flout the law," Ramsey responded. "It only matters that you obeyed the law or did not obey the law. The jury found that you deliberately violated our tax laws."
Special prosecutor Stuart E. Abrams said during the hearing that Clines "took advantage of the secrecy of the [Iran-contra] operation to line his own pockets. . . . It was, purely and simply, a case of greed."
Defense attorney Paula M. Junghans chastised the prosecution team for its "relentlessly negative tone" regarding Clines.
"He's an imperfect human being," she said. "He has faults.
"The government says there has only been fraud, evil and greed. But his adult life has been formed in the crucible of the CIA. He has spent the better part of his life working for the government. That's worth something."