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Archive for March, 2019

Manafort’s Sentence and the Luck of White Privilege

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

Paul Manafort – Creative Commons

Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, was sentenced today in federal court in the District of Columbia by Judge Amy Berman Jackson. I have had the occasion to appear before Judge Jackson representing defendants. She is known for being fair. And she is not a pushover judge as Judge T.S. Ellis, III, Manafort’s judge in his Alexandria, VA case. Judge Elliot gave Manafort a light sentence more than a decade below the sentencing guidelines of 19- 24 years. Judge Ellis sentenced Manafort to less than five years.

Manafort faced a maximum of 10 years before Judge Jackson. Judge Jackson let it be known in court today that Manafort had a contempt for the court proceedings and our American democracy by his acts. While Manafort’s last week’s sentence sickened me, Judge Jackson today stated that the truth and facts matter. The real issue was whether the sentence would run in addition to the sentence last week or run along with the prior sentence—to shorten his term in prison.

The case is really a tale of two judges and how the court system works in favor of white collar and white privileged defendants. Judge Ellis last week stated that other than the charges, Manafort had left an otherwise routine life. Manafort made $60 million out of his deals and failed to pay taxes on much of it. Out of the money, he bought lavish homes, $20,000 suits, yet had very little left by the time of his court woes. Judge Jackson made clear that she is not pleased with Manafort’s shenanigans after being charged—his lying to prosecutors under a plea agreement to cooperate.

Paul Manafort for the first time apologized for his acts. He begged Judge Jackson to be able to have a lighter sentence and stay home with his wife. Judge Jackson told Manafort before sentencing that he squandered the chance for a lighter sentence—yet she gave him a lighter sentence anyway.

On the possible maximum sentence of 10 years, Judge Jackson stated that 30 months of her sentence must by law run concurrent with the Virginia sentence last week. On count one -conspiracy charge, Judge Jackson sentenced Manafort to 60 months with 30 months running concurrent (meaning to run alongside of) with the Virginia sentence last week. Manafort dodged the bullet of the maximum 10 years. With regards to the witness tampering count, Judge Jackson sentenced Manafort to 13 months, to run consecutive (in addition to) with count one and the VA sentence.

As I read the sentence, Manafort will serve 43 months or 3 ½ years in addition to the Virginia 4- year sentence. Roughly, Manafort would serve 7 years. Without a pardon, Manafort faces a prison term until he is 77 years old. While parts of  the sentencing may be in addition to the Virginia sentence last week, Manafort still received a light sentence, considering what he could have likely received. His sentence was still less than what the federal guidelines called for.

The fraud on the American public committed by Manafort shows that crime does pay if you are rich, white and privileged in America. This is not a reflection on Judge Jackson—but on the overall criminal white-collar system which gives breaks to white collar, white privileged defendants but throws the book at African American defendants, mostly men and persons of color, even when committing white collar crimes.

Setting aside Manafort’s sentence, when he was in jail pending trial, he had access to computers and an almost suite like room in the prison, instead of a one room jail cell. To say that he received extra privileges would be an understatement. Manafort caught a break both during his time awaiting sentencing and during sentencing, last week and before Judge Jackson today.

To be an old, white and privileged man in America works very well in the criminal justice system. Paul Manafort did not deserve the break he received for the crimes he committed. The ultimate snub to the criminal justice system and to the American people will be if Donald Trump pardons Manafort.  No matter what happens, Paul Manafort is the poster boy for white privileged males.

UPDATE: At the same time of his sentencing, Paul Manafort was indicted on state charges  in New York for which Trump cannot pardon him, if convicted.

Washington, DC Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer who appears before the U.S. District Court and is a former prosecutor.

College Cheating Scam and White Privilege

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019

Felicity Huffman – Creative Commons

The largest college cheating admissions scam was announced today by the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts with over 50 persons being charged including actress Felicity Huffman, college coaches, SAT administrators, exam proctors and 33 parents.  Parents involved paid upwards of over $6.5 million for their children to be admitted to various elite schools including Yale, Georgetown, Wake Forest and others.  It was the ultimate example of wealth and privilege being used to secure the futures of the teens involved.  The end result is what many minorities and persons of color expected for a long time.  The system is rigged in  terms of wealth and privilege.

Every parent should teach their children to refrain from lying, cheating and stealing. When the parents lie, cheat and steal for their children to gain admission to prestigious U.S. schools with or without the child’s knowledge, it shows what many persons of color have already suspected all along—that some white privileged children gain an undue and undeserved advantage in college admissions.

Many African American students who have attended/graduated from a prestigious college or university, from President Obama down to myself are often faced with the obvious question/sneer or look from many whites that they took the seat of a qualified white student—due to lower admission standards or grades—or through affirmative action. Trump even demanded that Pres. Obama provide his college transcript and test scores to show his worthiness to attend Harvard.  Meanwhile, Trump, a likely mediocre student himself allowed his fixer Michael Cohen to threaten universities from releasing Trump’s grades or scores. The hypocrisy of white privilege often astounds me.

While many minorities have often suspected that some white students with inferior grades or test scores could somehow gain entrance to many prestigious colleges, it was not exactly understood how the process worked—before today’s case.  It is suspected that the rigged system has been going on for at least a decade. That is likely an understatement. Actress Felicity Huffman and these white parents of privilege, access and money had every available means and income to hire the very  best tutors, best study materials and courses and best private middle schools for their children but chose to take the easy way out and buy their child’s way into college—up to $6.5 million a pop.

From the President lying every day for his own advantage to these wealthy white parents lying to advance their child’s education cause, we have to wonder if we as a society have lost our moral compass  and sense of decency. The fact that college personnel, SAT administrators, proctors and college coaches contributed to the scheme is all the more telling that wealth and white privilege works—until you get caught. Everyone was in on the deal at all levels.

No matter what, the hypocrisy of the situation is not lost on minority students and people of color—blaming children of color for taking a white child’s seat due to inferior grades/scores when in this case, it was the mediocre white students who took the seat of a well-deserving student—and perhaps many students of color over a period of years. Those students who knew of the scheme and participated must be charged as well – to right the wrong.  A student who has someone else take  a test on his or her behalf knows they are cheating. A student with no athletic skills knows when a fake profile is used to show his athletic skills.

I suspect this case is just the tipping of the iceberg with others to come and be charged.  Lives have forever been changed in the process. I speak of those deserving students who were denied admission at the colleges of their choice because their parents had no money to pay to play.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor. She often appears in the media as a legal analyst.