Monday, November 19, 2007

Former New Orleans' Councilman to be Sentenced Wednesday

Former Councilman Oliver Thomas is scheduled to be sentence Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Though he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, Thomas is likely to receive far less for various reasons, including his previously clean record, his admission of guilt and the relatively small amount of money, about $20,000, that he confessed to taking.

Federal sentencing guidelines call for a sentence in the range of 30 to 37 months based on the offenses Thomas admitted, according to Tulane law professor and former federal prosecutor Tania Tetlow. Federal judges are no longer required to follow sentencing guidelines.

However, it appears unlikely he will receive extra leniency in exchange for providing what federal law calls "substantial assistance" in the investigation or prosecution of another person, according to courthouse observers. Were that the case, prosecutors would have almost certainly asked Vance to delay Thomas' sentencing.

"When someone is cooperating, you usually see one or two motions to continue," said Loyola Law School professor Dane Ciolino. "The purpose is to make sure he cooperates as expected, and that he testifies as expected."

"The government has a policy of waiting (to sentence a convict) until after he has testified," agreed lawyer Julian Murray, a former federal prosecutor. "It doesn't mean he hasn't given them some information that was helpful, but it's unlikely he'll testify in another case."

Not only does a delay ensure prosecutors the testimony they seek, it gives them time to complete the paperwork to request a downward departure, often known as a cooperation letter, or a 5K1 after the section of the federal sentencing code that describes it.

That Thomas' sentencing appears to be on schedule is a "pretty good suggestion that he is not cooperating -- or at least has not been able to deliver any additional wrongdoers to the government," Ciolino said.

In contrast, Ciolino noted, convicted restaurateur and political operative Stan "Pampy" Barre, -- who helped provide the government with the evidence it needed to prosecute Thomas -- still awaits sentencing.

Barre pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to skim more than $1 million from a large City Hall energy contract awarded by former Mayor Marc Morial. His sentencing, now set for January, has been delayed numerous times.

Thomas' lawyer, Clarence Roby, said he couldn't discuss the details of Thomas' conversations with investigators. But he hinted that his client hadn't provided the government much information, and he said he doesn't expect any delay in the sentencing.

"He's cooperated the best he could," Roby said of Thomas. "But unlike Stan Barre and others, he didn't necessarily walk in saying, 'Let me tell you about every corrupt act I've ever witnessed.' He's in an unenviable position. But he's taken responsibility for his misdeeds."

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