Appeal the Bereano Sentence

April 26, 1995

By giving Annapolis lobbyist Bruce Bereano a light sentence involving no prison time, U.S. District Judge William Nickerson has delivered a slap on the wrist to Bereano and a slap in the face of the jury that convicted him of fraud related to illegal campaign contributions.

The jury made it perfectly clear it thought Bereano had done something quite wrong. The judge had said before the verdict that he doubted if a crime had been committed, and in his sentencing he seemed determined to second guess -- perhaps even rebuke -- the jurors.

He did so in the worst possible way. He said the scheme Bereano and his clients engaged in wasn't evidence of corruption -- and that the public thought it was because of a misleading press. But the jurors thought it was corrupt, based not on what they read in the papers or heard in broadcasts, but on what they heard and saw in Judge Nickerson's courtroom.

A second reason the judge cited for not giving Bereano any prison time is that many public officials testified after the trial to his good character and asked for leniency. That contributes to a cynical public's belief that all politicians and their influential beneficiaries -- including judges -- stick together. One hand washes the other.

Based on these considerations, Judge Nickerson said he tossed aside federal sentencing guidelines that by his own calculation called for Bereano to serve at least five months behind bars.

The guidelines are supposed to prevent favoritism and the appearance of favoritism. We believe the U.S. attorney's office should appeal the sentence, which is allowed in the federal system. The public needs a demonstration that no old boys' network exists to thwart justice. What Bereano did as a lobbyist may not have been a horrible crime, but a jury determined it was a crime, which the law says deserves severe punishment.

Either we as a society are serious about white collar crime or we are not. If would-be white collar criminals are to be deterred, they must be given a reason to believe that if they do the crime, they'll do the time -- behind bars. If Bereano escapes meaningful punishment for doing what a citizens' jury deemed criminal, neither justice nor the reputation of the system will have been well served.

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