A federal judge Wednesday sentenced former Singer Co. Chairman Paul A. Bilzerian to four years in prison and a $1.5-million fine for the nine counts of securities and tax fraud on which he was convicted in June.
U.S. District Judge Robert J. Ward said he was convinced that a prison sentence was warranted, even though Bilzerian had never before been convicted of a crime, because the former corporate raider had lied on the witness stand during his trial.
"I recognize that he was a first (time) offender and he had a right to go to trial," the judge said. "But he did not have the right to take the stand and present false testimony."
Bilzerian, 38, had been accused of illegally amassing millions in profits from failed raids in 1985 and 1986 on Cluett, Peabody & Co.; H. H. Roberts & Co., and Hammermill Paper Co. He was also accused of failing to disclose a large investment in Armco Inc. After six weeks of testimony, a jury convicted him on all the counts against him.
The government had charged that Bilzerian evaded Securities and Exchange Commission disclosure requirements and had filed false tax returns. Bilzerian resigned as Singer's chairman within weeks after the conviction.
In addition to the prison term and fine, the judge sentenced Bilzerian to two years of probation and 250 hours of community service. Bilzerian would be eligible for parole after serving 16 months.
'Depth of Despair'
Judge Ward, however, allowed Bilzerian to remain free on bail pending the outcome of an appeal.
The case was part of the series of criminal prosecutions that resulted from former stock speculator Ivan F. Boesky's cooperation with the government.
During the sentencing, Bilzerian showed little emotion but at times listened with his eyes closed and occasionally stared down at the table in front of him. In a letter delivered to the judge some time before the sentencing, Bilzerian had written:
"I hope you understand the depth of my despair. My trial and conviction has (sic) publicly humiliated me and I am sorry for any shame and sorrow I have caused my friends and family. I never intended to cause harm to anyone. I wish I could turn back the clock of time and correct whatever mistakes I may have made."
Bilzerian's lawyer, Arthur Mathews, had argued that because his client had no previous criminal record he should be sentenced only to community service. Mathews suggested work in a drug treatment program for children near Bilzerian's home in Tampa, Fla.
But prosecutors, in a document filed with the court, said Bilzerian had "displayed contempt for the legal system" and since his conviction had "displayed absolutely no contrition or remorse."
During the trial, Bilzerian, who holds a degree from Harvard Business School, testified that he didn't know it was illegal for him not to have filed personal income tax returns for the years 1982, 1983 and 1984. He also denied that he had made illegal arrangements with the Los Angeles-based brokerage firm Jefferies & Co. to secretly hold stock for him in his raid on Hammermill.
On Wednesday, Judge Ward said that a statement of Bilzerian's personal finances, filed with the court, stated that he has a net worth of $81.4 million.