Friday, September 22, 2006

Judge Gives Former DOA Employee Thompson 18 Months for 'Serious Offense'

By David A. Wise
WisPolitics.com

A federal judge in Milwaukee today sentenced former DOA civil servant Georgia Thompson to 18 months in prison, a $4,000 fine and three years of supervised release, saying that citizens "deserve good and honest government."

Judge Rudolph Randa cited recent cases of corruption and said, "there's been too much of this lately" in explaining his decision.

When the sentence was announced, one of Thompson's supporters broke into tears. Thompson didn't react visibly, but turned and asked her lawyer a question about appeals. Thompson is due to report for her sentence on Nov. 27. Randa said he would decide within the next two weeks on a defense motion to let Thompson stay free on bail pending appeal.

In June, a federal jury found Thompson guilty on two felony counts for steering a state travel contract to a Milwaukee travel company whose executives donated to Gov. Jim Doyle. She faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

The prosecution was seeking two years in prison; her attorney was asking that she receive probation.

Thompson's attorney, Stephen Hurley, today pointed to other public corruption cases in which defendants who've "lined their pockets" have gotten lighter sentences than the prosecution recommended.

Hurley argued Thompson has led "a good and law-abiding life characterized by extremely hard work and dedication."

Hurley said Thompson was at no risk to re-offend and that the only reason to imprison her would be for a deterrent effect for others. Hurley mentioned Thompson lost her job, her home and suffered public humiliation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Campbell agreed with Hurley's assessment of Thompson's character, but disagreed that she did not benefit personally.

"She cheated the state and the people of her honest services," Campbell said. "And she did it to enhance her standing at work."

Campbell added that her public humiliation shouldn't be considered in sentencing. "It's not the press' job to punish people," Campbell said.

Campbell told the court that a lenient sentence "would send a message that the federal court in Wisconsin doesn't take public corruption seriously."

In making his decision, Randa called Thompson's actions a "serious offense" and noted that in at least one case that Hurley cited the defendant received a break for cooperating with officials. Recent coverage of high-profile cases "shows there's a deterrent in place," Randa said, but added that each case had to be judged separately.

Randa acknowledged to Thompson that "you suffered greatly from this" but added, "this comes with every sentencing."

Randa also commented on Thompson's character, citing letters he received from friends and co-workers of Thompson. Randa noted how she received praise for handling her job well and for working late, often on weekends. Randa said he agreed with the jury verdict, but said he didn't agree with the government's contention that she gained personally.

Randa's sentence of 18 months came after the prosecution adjusted its request downward from 24 months to 21 months. The prosecution's initial brief sought 24 months, citing "penalty enhancers" like Thompson abusing the public trust, causing a loss greater than $30,000 and obstructing justice by perjuring herself.

But the defense argued that it is impossible to calculate exactly how much loss she allegedly caused, putting the figure around $5,000.

Campbell called the $30,000 figure "conservative" and said Omega lost over $250,000 in profits. Redoing the RFP process would cost more than $30,000 alone, he said.

Randa sided with the government on the money figure and agreed that Thompson abused the public trust. Randa, however, characterized a statement the defense called perjury as "a harmless falsification" that did not sway the jury.

It was after Randa ruled that Thompson had not perjured herself that the prosecution adjusted its recommendation downwards.

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