Deborah Dean receives jail sentence, $5,000 fine

February 26, 1994|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- In the harshest punishment to date of a former government official in the scandal that rocked the Reagan-era housing department, Deborah Gore Dean was sentenced yesterday to 21 months in jail and fined $5,000 for her role in high-level fraud.

Dean hails from one of Maryland's most prominent Republican families and is a second cousin to Vice President Al Gore. She was convicted in October of steering millions of dollars in federal housing contracts to favored developers, accepting an illegal payment and lying to Congress about her role at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan said yesterday that Dean, who was chief aide to Housing Secretary Samuel R. Pierce, helped cause "a major scandal that certainly eroded public confidence in HUD and the federal government. Individuals were favored because of political connections, not merit, in the public funding awards. There's no question it eroded the public's trust in our government."

The judge said a prison term was warranted for Dean, 39, who as Mr. Pierce's executive assistant became the most visible villain in the HUD scandal. He said that was because of "the nature of the harm to the government and to the community" and "to satisfy the community's need that these actions not go unpunished."

xTC Judge Hogan said the sentence carries no possibility of parole and will be followed by two years of supervised probation.

He allowed Dean, who could have been sentenced to 57 years in prison and fined $3 million, to remain free on bond while she appeals the conviction, which could take one to two years.

Showing little emotion after her sentencing, Dean, who said she had recently suffered a miscarriage, called the punishment unfair and inappropriate because, she said, she was merely carrying out policies of her superiors at HUD.

Still maintaining her innocence of the 12 felony counts for which she was convicted, Dean said the judge had aimed "to make me an example" to the public.

"If you're going to make someone the example, it should be the person who ran the programs or made the policy or signed the checks," she said.

While independent counsel Arlin M. Adams' four-year investigation of HUD has resulted in 12 convictions, Mr. Pierce has not been indicted, though he is still under investigation.

Other former HUD employees who have been convicted, many of whom held higher positions than Dean did at HUD, have cooperated with the independent counsel's investigation and have received much lesser sentences.

Still, Mr. Adams said he thought yesterday's sentence was "too lenient under the circumstances, given the harm done to the department, the government and the citizens -- particularly the disadvantaged citizens of the country."

During a six-week jury trial in federal court last fall, Dean was found guilty of helping to line the pockets of well-connected Republicans -- including former Attorney General John N. Mitchell, who lived with her mother in the final years of his life -- by improperly funneling millions of federal dollars to housing projects they benefited from.

In a letter to the court that the judge read from yesterday, Dean, a niece of Louise Gore, a former Maryland legislator and Republican candidate for governor, conceded that she made "significant, serious mistakes" and "brought dishonor" on herself, her family and the government.

Judge Hogan, noting the "systematic corruption" at HUD at the time, said he recognized that Dean was part of a culture of influence-peddling there and was not "a mastermind" or "Machiavellian" figure in this scandal.

"I do believe she was a young, immature individual who was given responsibilities far beyond her capabilities," he said, explaining why he did not impose a stiffer sentence.

The judge made several jabs at Mr. Pierce, who has been portrayed by former HUD employees as an inept and disengaged manager.

Judge Hogan said there was a "total failure to oversee [Dean's] activities by the secretary" and an "evident lack of leadership at the highest levels."

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