Carpenter Gets More Than 7 Years in Prison : Courts: Judge says sentence, the longest in Capitol corruption probe, is at high end of guidelines because ex-senator fled abroad. Defense lawyer calls decision fair.
One year after he fled the country to avoid a prison term, former state Sen. Paul Carpenter was sentenced Tuesday to more than seven years in a federal penitentiary--the harshest punishment given any of the defendants convicted during a nine-year probe of state government corruption.
As Carpenter stood mutely in front of him, an angry U.S. District Judge Edward J. Garcia said the 87-month prison term for political corruption was at the high end of the sentencing guidelines because of the former Democratic politician’s “deliberate and premeditated” decision to flee the country.
Garcia reminded Carpenter that exactly a year earlier he had stood before the judge asking to be released without bail so he could get treatment for prostate cancer while awaiting sentencing.
“At the time the defendant made this pitch, he undoubtedly had already made his plans for escape,” Garcia said.
The judge, noting that recent examinations showed the cancer to be in remission, refused to consider Carpenter’s age and health.
Carpenter, 67, was originally scheduled to be sentenced by Garcia last February after his conviction the previous December on 11 criminal counts, including obstruction of justice, mail fraud and money laundering. But shortly before the sentencing, he sent the judge a letter saying he would not appear because he was leaving the country to seek further treatment for his cancer.
After an international search, federal authorities eventually located Carpenter in Costa Rica, where he was arrested in April and from which he was extradited to the United States in November.
On Tuesday, the judge repeatedly asked the former senator if he had any explanation to offer the court, and each time Carpenter replied firmly, “No, your honor.”
In addition to the prison term, Garcia ordered Carpenter to pay a $50,450 fine and said he would hold a hearing to determine if the former senator should be required to reimburse the government for the costs of his court-appointed defense team. His attorney would only tell reporters the cost was less than $100,000.
U.S. Atty. Charles J. Stevens said the sentencing of Carpenter provided an appropriate ending for the government’s “extraordinarily successful” investigation of wrongdoing in the state capital and finally gave the former senator what he deserved.
The sentence, Stevens said, reflected “the court’s disgust with corruption on the part of a public official and . . . the court’s desire to further punish someone who decides to flee sentencing rather than pay the piper at the appropriate time.”
He described Carpenter as a “calculating and manipulative” individual who had begun to plan his escape even before his trial in late 1993. At that time, Stevens said, Carpenter had traveled to Costa Rica for what he claimed was a mountain climbing expedition.
“We believe his so-called excursion to the mountains was in fact a reconnaissance mission to prepare for later flights because he undoubtedly thought . . . that he would be convicted and would need a safe harbor,” Stevens said.
He said Carpenter’s sentencing would write the final chapter in the federal government’s probe, which resulted in 14 convictions, including those of five California legislators. The average sentence was roughly four years, with the severest until now--6 1/2 years--going to Clayton Jackson, a former lobbyist who was tried with Carpenter.
Stevens estimated that Carpenter’s flight to Costa Rica added another 17 months to his sentence, but Carpenter’s attorney, Charles Bloodgood, said that, at most, it increased the term only nine months.
While he agreed that the sentence was severe, Bloodgood said it was much lighter than he had expected. “No one is ever pleased when his client goes to jail, but it could have been a lot worse,” he said, adding that “under the circumstances, I think it was a fair sentence.”
Provided Carpenter remains healthy, Bloodgood said, he could be eligible for parole in six years.
The attorney had argued for leniency, contending that Carpenter’s age and his medical condition could mean he would die in federal prison. Bloodgood also asked the judge to consider the fact that, unlike the other defendants in the political corruption cases, Carpenter was never accused of “lining his own pockets.”
In the trial, which featured ex-state Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys) as the government’s star witness, Carpenter was painted as a corrupt politician who had funneled $78,000 in bribe money from Jackson’s clients to Robbins.
“Paul Carpenter along the way did not feather his nest,” said Bloodgood. “Unlike Alan Robbins, he did not come out of the Legislature a multimillionaire.”
Bloodgood said the sentencing provided several small victories for Carpenter.
As part of its extradition agreement with Costa Rica, the attorney said, the government was required to dismiss three obstruction-of-justice charges against Carpenter and to agree not to charge him for his flight to avoid sentencing.
“So we didn’t have to go through a trial to defend against the flight charges--a trial which we certainly would have lost,” Bloodgood said.
Federal prosecutors said the extradition agreement with Costa Rica required them to promise that Carpenter would not be tried or sentenced for any charges that were not crimes in Costa Rica.
Bloodgood said Carpenter plans to appeal his convictions as well as his sentence.