Ex-O's ace Ponson gets 5-day jail term

December 13, 2005|By GUS G. SENTEMENTES | GUS G. SENTEMENTES,SUN REPORTER

Sidney Ponson, who went from Orioles pitching ace to unemployment after repeated run-ins with the law, was given a five-day jail sentence yesterday by a Baltimore District Court judge who found him guilty of driving while impaired in August.

Ponson's travails continued after his case concluded yesterday. Soon after he left the courtroom in South Baltimore, authorities lodged another charge against the one-time top pitcher: a citation for knowingly making a false statement on a Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration application.

In Ponson's drunken driving case, prosecutors dropped the more serious charge of driving under the influence but asked the judge to impose the five-day sentence on the remaining charge because of Ponson's history with drinking and driving. Both charges stemmed from an incident early Aug. 25 when a Maryland Transportation Authority Police officer stopped the Mercedes-Benz that Ponson was driving on Interstate 95 in South Baltimore.

"The court cannot but conclude that some jail time is needed," said Judge James L. Mann Jr., who also ordered the pitcher to pay a $500 fine and court fees. "It is my earnest hope that Mr. Ponson has finally gotten the message."

Ponson -- who spent 30 days in a rehabilitation clinic after his arrest in August -- showed no emotion during the hearing, and when the judge offered him the chance to comment, he declined.

After his case was over, a stone-faced Ponson -- dressed in a dark suit and sporting more hair than his usual near-bald look -- left the John R. Hargrove Sr. District Court Building with his attorneys Arthur Alperstein and Andrew Alperstein and agent Barry Praver. He walked quickly, did not respond to questions and got into the back of a black sedan, leaving his representatives to talk with the news media.

"Sidney deeply regrets any embarrassment that he caused Peter Angelos, Mike Flanagan and the rest of the Orioles organization," Praver said after the hearing. Angelos is the Orioles' owner and Flanagan is the team's executive vice president.

Ponson, 29, is not allowed to drive, his attorneys said, because his driver's license in Florida has been suspended and his Maryland license is expected to be suspended after his conviction yesterday.

Ponson's jail sentence in Baltimore caps a tumultuous year for the former Orioles' pitcher. In handing down the sentence, Mann noted Ponson's two previous drunken driving offenses, including one in January in Florida and one dating to 1996 in Maryland.

Last Christmas, Ponson, a native of Aruba, punched a judge during a dispute on a beach on the island. Ponson served 11 days in jail, although that case was not mentioned in court yesterday. The charges were dropped after a settlement that included restitution, community service and contributions to local charities on the island.

As for the new citation against Ponson, for knowingly making a false statement on a state MVA application, Andrew Alperstein said yesterday that Ponson would dispute it.

"He got the citation, and he vehemently denies it," the attorney said. He would not say whether the application involved Ponson's Maryland driver's license.

Ponson's arrest in August marked the last straw for the Orioles, who placed the pitcher on unconditional release waivers for the purpose of terminating the final year of a three-year, $22.5 million contract he signed in January 2004.

The Orioles are trying to void the remaining $10 million they owe Ponson for the end of the 2005 season and all of 2006. Ponson has contested the move, and an arbitration hearing is expected next year. Ponson's attorneys declined to discuss the matter yesterday.

A Major League Baseball official declined yesterday to comment on what effect Ponson's guilty verdict and jail sentence might have on the dispute.

"From a personal standpoint, I wish Sidney well," Flanagan said. "From the club standpoint, he's no longer employed by the Orioles so it wouldn't be appropriate to comment."

Ponson no longer has a residence in Maryland and is living in Florida, his attorneys said.

Praver said that other teams have shown interest in Ponson and that he didn't expect the pitcher's drunken-driving charges in Florida and Maryland to affect his ability to receive a work visa next year to continue to play major league baseball. If Ponson isn't allowed to work next year in the United States, the Orioles would probably have an excuse not to pay him, per their contract with the pitcher.

"He will be playing baseball next year," Praver said.

Maryland Transportation Authority Police arrested Ponson about 1:30 a.m. Aug. 25 on traffic charges of driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated and following another car too closely on southbound I-95. Ponson failed a field sobriety test, refused to take a Breathalyzer test and admitted to drinking three beers before getting in his car.

Regarding his January arrest in Florida, Ponson's attorneys told Mann yesterday in court that Ponson was placed on supervised probation last month.

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