No Prison Time for North : Judge Fines Him $150,000, Orders 1,200 Hrs. of Public Service : Ex-Marine Repentant as He Pleads for Mercy
Former White House aide Oliver L. North, expressing regret and pleading for leniency, was fined $150,000 and barred from holding public office today but escaped a jail term for helping to cover up the Iran-Contra scandal that rocked the Reagan Administration.
The retired Marine lieutenant colonel received a three-year suspended sentence and two years’ probation and was ordered to perform 1,200 hours of community service with inner-city youth.
But he was also barred from holding public office, which will prevent him from running for Congress as had been suggested.
North, who faced a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $750,000 fine, was convicted May 4 of three charges of helping to cover up the scandal--the sale of U.S. arms to Iran and the diversion of profits to Nicaragua’s Contra rebels in 1985 and 1986.
In pronouncing sentence, U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell told North: “I believe you knew this was morally wrong. Under the stress of the moment, it was easier to choose the fate of a martyr. . . . I believe you still lack understanding of how the public service has been tarnished. Jail would only harden your misconceptions.”
His voice cracking, North said before hearing the sentence: “I’ve devoted nearly two decades to service of my country, and I would never knowingly do anything to hurt it. . . . The prosecutor said I feel no remorse. In that, he is wrong. For I grieve every day.
“I recognize that I have made many mistakes, and as a result of these mistakes, I have been convicted of serious crimes. I have lost the chance to ever again serve as a Marine.”
North asked the judge to grant “leniency” so his family could “rebuild their lives.”
North faced Gesell as sentence was pronounced and after the court adjourned, kissed his wife, Betsy, who was sitting in the first row of the gallery.
North, whose forceful testimony before a televised congressional probe riveted the nation, admitted in court that he lied to Congress and shredded secret White House documents. But he maintained that he never felt he was breaking the law.
During North’s three-month trial, prosecutors sought to portray him as an overzealous bureaucrat who put himself above the law to carry out the Iran-Contra plan in which Reagan Administration officials secretly sold arms to Iran in the hope of winning freedom for American hostages in Lebanon.
North’s lawyers contended that he was only following orders from the highest officials in the White House, including then-President Ronald Reagan.
In his sentencing remarks, Gesell told North that during the Iran-Contra affair “I don’t think you were a leader at all.” He said North was “really a low-ranking subordinate who was carrying out the instructions of a few cynical superiors.”
Still, the judge said, North responded “willingly and to some extent even excessively” to their requests.
Gesell said that even though North was following orders, “you’re not the fall guy for this tragic breach of the public trust.”
North is free to continue the $25,000-a-speech tours that have occupied his time since his conviction on three felony counts for aiding and abetting in obstruction of Congress, for destroying or altering government documents and for accepting a gratuity--a security fence around his home.