Entry for March 29, 2006

The above is an illustration from Eyal Press (I wrote  his new book March 3)   and Jennifer Washburn’s The Kept University, which  first appeared in the Atlantic in March 2000, detailing the corrupting influence of reseasrch money on education.

I didn’t think about this angle, when I wrote yesterday about Dr. Thomas Butler who received a 2 year prison sentence, even when the jury acquitted him of the primary charges.    

I wondered why Butler received such different harsh treatment in comparison with Jack Abramoff,  a major miscreant, when I heard that U.S. District Judge Judge Paul Huck of  Miami has sentenced Abramoff  to the minimum 70 months  for his Florida fraud case.   Josephine Hearn, staff writer for The Hill,  today posits that

The judge may have been swayed by more than 250 letters from Abramoff supporters, including one from longtime ally Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) pressing for leniency and citing Abramoff’s good works, strong religious faith and commitment to his family.

The Florida grand jury  indicted Abramoff in August on six counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud. In 2000, Abramoff and  his business partner, Adam Kidan, submitted counterfeit documents that they had wired  $23 million in cash  to the account of SunCruz Casino lines’ former owner, Konstantinos Boulis, in order to obtain a $60 million loan for the $147.5 million purchase.  Boulis was killed gangland-style the next yesr.

Abramoff initially pleaded not guilty, but changed his plea on January 4, 2006, the day after he admitted in Washington D.C. federal court that he had defrauded clients and conspired to corrupt public officials.   In that case, according to a January 4 story by  staff writers Susan Schmidt and James V. Grimaldi, Abramoff pled guilty to three felonies and accepted a reduced prison sentence of about 9 1/2 to 11 years and $26.7 million in tax penalities and restitution to former clients, in exchange for his cooperation.  That’s a lot of money.  But think about how much he took in. (He was also ordered to pay, along with his co-defendent Kidan,  a total of $21.7 million in restitution.  They’ll also be on probation for three years.) 

So, is the lesson here not to cooperate until you have a plea?  Is the lesson that you won’t get as big a break if you can’t take a bigger fish down with you?  (People involved with the Washington investigation indicate that more than a dozen lawmakers (lawbreakers) may be involved, according to today’s New York Times story, “Abramoff Sentenced to Nearly 6 Years in Prison in Fraud Case”  by Philip Shenon.)

Or is the lesson more sinister?  The Sunshine Project, an international program to provide information on bioweapons, theorized in November 205, before Butler’s conviction,

Up against DOJ [Department of Justice] and his employer, Butler will need all the help he can get – not because his plague error caused any demonstrated harm; but because the reasons for his prosecution include the government’s need to protect sensitive research from the public eye. The case is not simply about reassurances that sloppy handling of disease will not be tolerated – the publicity surrounding the lost vials highlights the vulnerability of sensitive research to accidents. A leak at a sensitive biodefense project isn’t just a potential health or terrorism threat. An accident could be an international political liability if it reveals the “wrong” research, and Butler was certainly close to projects that appear to fit that description. It is thus not surprising that Justice wants him in jail and TTU [Texas Tech University] wants him fired. In this sense, the prosecution of Butler serves to make clear the restrictive terms of the government’s biodefense largesse.

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