Monday, September 10, 2012
Court Orders New Sentencing for Man Who Blew Up His Own Mailbox in Extortion Plot Involving Athletes
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Washington state man convicted of blowing up his own mailbox as part of a plot to convince investigators and others that he had information about millions of dollars that disappeared in a Ponzi scheme is entitled to a new sentencing hearing, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
The panel said the district judge had incorrectly applied the Sentencing Guidelines in ordering Kevin W. Williams to prison for eight years.
Witnesses testified that Williams, then an out-of-work logger from Chehalis, Wash., hatched a plan in 2007 after his stepmother discovered she was a victim in the Kirk Wright Ponzi scheme.
Wright enticed professional athletes and others to invest in International Management Associates, a supposed hedge fund. The investors’ losses reportedly ran to $185 million.
Wright was facing a virtual life sentence when he hanged himself in his jail cell after a federal jury in Atlanta found him guilty of more than 40 felonies.
As part of his plan, according to testimony, Williams contacted attorneys, investigators, and victims, including former pro football star Steve Atwater. Atwater has acknowledged that he recruited other players to join him in investing with Wright, and has been actively involved in efforts to recover the money.
Williams allegedly told numerous people that he was an investigator, although there was no evidence he had ever worked in that field or that he actually knew where any of the money was. He said he wanted to be paid for his information about the whereabouts of the funds; he sent Atwater an email asking for $172,000 and arranged to meet another victim at the Portland, Ore. airport to ask for $250,000.
In October 2007, a bomb destroyed the mailbox of Williams’ residence, and he told victims this was proof he had “what somebody else wants.” His housemate later testified that Williams set up the bombing in a bid to give his claims credibility.
Williams was arrested at the federal courthouse Atlanta when the Wright trial was slated to begin, and police found guns, ammunition, and explosive ingredients in a search of his vehicle. He was convicted of nine felonies, including wire fraud, extortion, and destruction of a mailbox.
In setting the prison term, Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Brian of the Western District of Washington cited several factors that the judge said aggravated the extortion count, which was based on threats that the victims would never see their money if they didn’t pay him. Those factors included possession of a weapon—the bomb that destroyed the mailbox—during the commission of the offense, playing a leadership role in the offense, and making false statements to law enforcement.
Those factors should not have been considered, Senior Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote for the appeals court, because they were not “relevant conduct” with respect to extortion.
“Williams bombed his mailbox in order to convince the IMA victims that he had valuable information, and so the mailbox bombing was likely committed ‘in preparation’ for his fraud offenses, “Tashima explained. “But there is no indication that in October of 2007, Williams was already preparing to threaten the IMA investors’ committee as he did in his February 18, 2008, email. Williams’ destruction of his own mailbox did nothing to bolster the credibility of his extortionate threat and so cannot be considered to have been committed in preparation for that offense.”
Senior Judge Procter Hug Jr. and Judge Consuelo M. Callahan concurred in the opinion.
The case is United States v. Williams, 11-30118.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company