An owner of a North Hollywood export company, accused last year of selling helicopters to North Korea, wants to be released from prison so that he can start a program for disadvantaged children with learning disabilities, authorities said Monday.
While prosecutors said the request by Ronald H. Semler, 44, of Malibu, is nothing more than a ploy to get out of jail, a federal judge postponed a hearing until Oct. 17 to give federal probation officers time to review it.
U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian Jr. said he had “no problem” with the concept of trading jail time for service to the community but wants more information on Semler’s plan.
Semler has proposed operating two 10-week programs for dyslexic children at his own expense in the summers of 1989 and 1990 provided he is released immediately from federal custody in Lompoc, where he has two years remaining on a three-year sentence.
Semler’s proposal would “take several hundred kids off the streets and teach them to read,” said Richard H. Kirschner, attorney for Semler’s brother, Monte Barry Semler, 40, of Santa Barbara.
Indicted in 1987
The Semlers were indicted in January, 1987, by a federal grand jury on charges that they agreed to sell more than 100 Hughes helicopters to North Korea. Prosecutors contended that the brothers entered into a contract with the North Koreans for $40 million and stood to make as much as $10 million. The North Koreans took delivery of 87 helicopters plus spare parts and tools between 1983 and 1985, authorities said. A shipment of 15 others was stopped by federal authorities.
Those charges were reduced in February in a plea bargain with prosecutors after two months of a trial in federal court. The brothers pleaded guilty to making false statements to customs officials and shipping radio parts to the Syrian army without proper licensing.
Each was ordered to pay $40,000 in fines. Ronald Semler was sentenced to three years in prison and his brother to a year and a day.
Monte Semler asked that he be immediately released to work with his brother in the program for disadvantaged children. But Tevrizian said he did not see any purpose in considering his early release since he is scheduled to get out of prison in December.
Vincent J. Marella, Ronald Semler’s attorney, declined comment on his client’s proposal.
Federal prosecutors did not mince words in their opposition to the proposal. In documents filed in federal court, they called it “a cosmetic, short-term program which is clearly designed only to allow the defendants to escape custody.”
Prosecutors further argued that Tevrizian, who was the trial judge in the Semler case, has no power to reduce Ronald Semler’s sentence.
In an 11-page memorandum, Assistant U.S. Atty. James L. Sanders argues that because the sentence was the result of a plea bargain, the court has no power to reduce it.
“Once a court agrees that a sentence is appropriate, the sentence is binding on all parties and that sentence must be imposed,” Sanders wrote.
The judge, however, disagreed Monday. He argued that he has the power to reduce sentences and would if Ronald Semler’s case warranted such action.