Monday, August 4, 2008
Ninth Circuit Upholds One-Day Sentence for White-Collar Criminal
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
A district judge did not abuse his discretion by imposing only a one-day prison term, followed by a year and a day at a work-release facility, for a man convicted of embezzling over half a million dollars from the non-profit hospital that employed him, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
Although Judge Ronald M. Gould penned a vigorous dissent, the majority ruled that the sentence was reasonable in light of deference to the district court’s assessment of the mitigating evidence and non-custodial aspects of Kevin Ruff’s sentence.
Ruff worked as a materials supervisor for Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash. Over the course of his three-year employment, he stole over $644,866 worth of supplies from his employer and sold them over eBay. Ruff later pled guilty to several counts of healthcare fraud, embezzlement and money laundering.
During sentencing, Chief District Judge Fred L. Van Sickle of the Eastern District of Washington noted Ruff’s remorse, mental health issues, strong employment history, and support from his family. Finding an absence of potential risk to the public and the appropriateness of restitution, Van Sickle initially sentenced Ruff to a prison term of a year and a day, followed by three years’ supervised release. He recommended that Ruff serve his sentence at Geiger Corrections Center so that Ruff could work, pay restitution and visit with his then 11-year-old son.
After learning that Geiger, a work-release facility for inmates on supervised release, would not house prisoners, Van Sickle held a second hearing, where he amended Ruff’s sentence to one day of imprisonment and three years of supervised release, with the condition that Ruff serve a year and a day of his supervised release at Geiger.
Writing for the appellate court majority, Judge Raymond C. Fisher concluded the two sentences were substantively identical and reasonable in light of the “host of mitigating factors” cited by Van Sickle.
He further reasoned that the later hearing was a continuation of the first, and that Van Sickle’s failure to reiterate his previous analysis of the sentencing factors in detail did not constitute procedural error.
Judge Sandra S. Ikuta joined Fisher in his opinion, but Gould argued the “extreme leniency” in Ruff’s sentence was “patently unreasonable.”
‘Slap on Wrist’
Gould characterized Ruff’s one-day imprisonment as a “mere slap on the wrist.” He argued that such “laxity to white collar crime” was a “blow to the integrity of our criminal justice system,” because defendants who willfully steal millions of dollars receive no forced incarceration while the “poor and powerless” who commit common larceny and theft serve extensive sentences.
“It seems inescapable that we as a court need to spend more time thinking about the appropriate punishment for white collar crime,” he wrote, contending that the “vast majority of law abiding citizens” would find it “almost inconceivable that a man who steals more than a half-million dollars in a calculated and prolonged course of deception and embezzlement over several years will suffer only a single day in prison.”
However, Fisher wrote that Gould’s characterizations directly flouted the Supreme Court’s instruction that courts should not quantify variances from the guidelines and failed to give weight to the substantial restrictions involved in a term of supervised release.
Further, Fisher said in a footnote, although “‘more time thinking about the appropriate punishment for white collar crime’ may be necessary as a general matter,” there is little to support the notion that the appellate and district courts treat white collar crimes differently from other crimes.
The case is United States v. Ruff, 07-30213.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company