A Baltimore patrolman who reluctantly served as a lookout for a deadly arson-for-hire ring after he was recruited by his stepfather, also a city officer, was sentenced to 15 months behind bars yesterday -- less time than prosecutors and even his own attorney had requested.
Chief U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz said the case involved special circumstances because of the terrible position Ian Budny had been placed in by his stepfather, which the judge said prompted him to hand down the relatively light prison term in federal court in Baltimore.
"One simply has to understand the humanity of the situation," Motz said before sentencing the disgraced five-year veteran of the city Police Department.
Ian Budny tried to fend off requests by his stepfather, 23-year police veteran Gary L. Budny, to help the arson ring, which was burning rowhouses in East Baltimore between 1993 and 1995 and collecting the insurance money.
At first, Ian Budny refused. But under the constant pressure from one the most important people in his life, he relented and agreed to clear a block targeted by the arsonists and falsify police reports about what he witnessed.
Ian Budny told the judge yesterday he had no one to blame but himself. "The only thing I have to say is, I take full responsibility for what I did," said Ian Budny, his wife and 3-year-old daughter sitting behind him. "I don't blame my father. I blame myself. I could have said no."
Motz said he felt compelled to send Budny to prison to send a signal to the public that officers cannot use their badges to commit crimes. Prosecutors had requested a two-year term -- the same sentence Motz gave Ian Budny's 46-year-old stepfather Wednesday. Ian Budny's defense lawyer asked for an 18-month term, the minimum under sentencing guidelines.
But Motz decided to depart from the guidelines because Ian Budny had tried to rebuff his stepfather's requests.
"You tried to resist, and this is undisputed," the judge told him.
Budny's stepfather was a friend of a key player in the arson ring, Robert "Ricky" Milligan, who owned a string of rowhouses in the city. In spring 1995, Gary Budny overheard Milligan talking about burning the rowhouses to collect the insurance money.
Paul Bebber, who worked for Milligan, set the gas-soaked rowhouses on fire, according to court records. Milligan's brother, Gary M. Milligan, and a private detective, Thomas W. Smith III, also joined the ring, the records show.
In June 1995, Ricky Milligan asked Gary Budny to enlist the support of his stepson, who patrolled the streets surrounding the rowhouses. Budny asked his stepson to clear the block, but he twice refused, court records show.
Ricky Milligan also offered Ian Budny $5,000. Again, he refused.
Finally, Ian Budny gave in to his stepfather's wishes. On July 1, 1995, he cleared the 1300 block of N. Rose Street and the fire was set.
The ring members were arrested last year after an investigation by Baltimore detectives and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents. They discovered that as part of the ring's plan, Bebber, Smith and the Milligan brothers, who are white, tried to blame the fires on tenants, who were black, court records show.
Ring members also asked Ian Budny to write in his reports that he saw African-American men running from the burning home, but he refused.
On July 4, 1995, the conspiracy turned deadly. The men set fire to a home on East Lombard Street. A neighbor suffered a heart attack and died a month later.
Motz found that her death, with the death of a man who had sought refuge in one of the homes, resulted from the arsons. His ruling meant longer prison terms for Bebber, Gary Milligan and Thomas Smith.
Last month, Gary Milligan was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Smith received a 20-year term. Robert "Ricky" Milligan was sentenced to 17 1/2 years while Bebber received 24 years and four months.
Yesterday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph L. Evans told Motz that Ian Budny was among the least culpable players in the ring. He said Budny held no financial stake in the fires, helped investigators after he was arrested and testified before a federal grand jury.
"His grand jury testimony was among the most powerful and riveting that I've heard," Evans told the judge.
Ian Budny's attorney, Henry L. Belsky, said his client was sorry for what he had done and asked a veteran police officer to testify on his client's behalf.
Baltimore police Sgt. Laron W. Wilson recalled the day Ian Budny confessed to him about what had happened. He said the officer broke down in tears in his basement last Super Bowl Sunday because he had betrayed his badge and his colleagues.
"It was emotional blackmail for Gary to put him in that position," Wilson told the judge.
Motz agreed. "It's time you put this behind you and move on," he told Ian Budny. "I think you're going to do it. When you serve your time, you'll help other people."
Pub Date: 8/29/97