Chapman gets less jail time

Judge delays, trims prison term for convicted money manager

February 17, 2007|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

Calling himself a changed man, convicted pension fund manager Nathan A. Chapman Jr. persuaded a federal judge yesterday to postpone his long-delayed prison term on theft charges so he could finish out the semester at divinity school.

Chapman, who greeted his sentence more than two years ago by saying "with the crucifixion, there will be resurrection," is enrolled at Howard University in Washington and the nondenominational Spirit of the Faith Christian Center in Southern Maryland.

"This is an isolated incident in my life," said Chapman, who has been free pending his appeal since conviction in August 2004. "I'm not going to allow it to be the last word on my life."

As a former chairman of the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents, Chapman, 49, once befriended governors and mingled among the state's power elite. But his namesake firm later foundered, and a jury later convicted Chapman of defrauding the state's pension system, stealing from his own companies and lying on tax returns.

He was sentenced in November 2004 to 7 1/2 years in prison. But Chapman appealed and won a second chance at sentencing, receiving a shorter prison term yesterday of slightly more than five years. Prosecutors had sought a 10-year imprisonment.

"This is an extremely serious case," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jefferson M. Gray said yesterday, estimating the total losses at close to $6 million. Chapman's actions, he said, "seriously damaged public confidence" in the state's pension system, which Chapman once helped manage.

Divorced and stripped of his fame and fortune, Chapman stood alone next to his lawyers, expressed remorse and said he had taken "shortcuts" that prosecutors described as law-breaking.

"I really regret it deeply for all that has happened here," the Columbia resident told the court. "This whole episode ... I wish I could get a do-over."

But the once proud son of a railroad worker and seamstress from Edmondson Village stopped short of admitting guilt, trying instead to explain his business practices.

He compared his behavior to that of an ambitious entrepreneur, one who rose from a troubled inner-city neighborhood, broke through racial barriers at the city's most prestigious financial firms and, with his company, became one of the country's top African-American investors, who hand-picked his own board of directors.

"I thought, `I'm the approval,'" Chapman said, referring to the kind of unauthorized financial transactions that propped up his ailing company.

Judge William D. Quarles expressed affinity with Chapman and admiration for his accomplishments. The judge also praised Chapman's breakthroughs in the business world and acknowledged that Chapman was a "different person" from the one the judge originally sentenced.

But Quarles, who imposed a 63-month sentence, said he could not overlook Chapman's criminal conduct that resided at the "intersection of greed and hubris."

It was at the request of the defense that the judge moved back the date Chapman must report to prison, from March until June. The judge did not grant Chapman's request to serve some of the prison time in a halfway house, an appeal made so that he could be closer to his three young daughters, according to his lawyer.

Howard University officials said yesterday they were unable to answer questions about Chapman's enrollment. An elder reached by phone yesterday at the Spirit of Faith Center in Temple Hills confirmed that Chapman was a student in the three-year ministerial program but declined to answer any additional questions.

Yesterday's court hearing all but closes the book on the Chapman case, which culminated with a federal trial in Baltimore filled with accusations of racial bias and prosecutorial misconduct. A remaining issue on jury selection will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, said defense attorney William R. "Billy" Martin.

After seven weeks of testimony, a jury in August 2004 convicted Chapman on 23 out of 32 counts, finding that he used state pension money to buy stock in his companies and prop up its value. He later pleaded guilty in a separate part of the case to submitting false documentation to buy more than $1 million worth of real estate. On that conviction, he was sentenced to probation.

His appeal before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., however, was largely unsuccessful. He failed to persuade the judges to overturn the bulk of the case, though the appeals court ordered the case back for resentencing because of a recent Supreme Court decision.

The panel of three rejected Chapman's arguments that prosecutors improperly struck African-American women from the jury that convicted him. They also dismissed his contention that Chapman was harmed when the trial judge allowed certain government witnesses to testify while barring other expert witnesses offered by the defense.

Finally, the judges found little or no merit in the accusations of misconduct that Chapman's lawyers lodged against the federal agents and prosecutors.

Yesterday, with the bulk of the appeal over, Martin told Quarles that he now believed his client had received a fair trial.

"We, too, have moved on," Martin said. "I think Mr. Chapman has moved on, too."

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