Everything’s Bigger in Texas, But this Sentence Is Absurd

Compare Apples to Oranges HeavyNearly all of my clients face federal white-collar criminal charges. Many of them seem to believe that federal criminal charges are more serious than state criminal charges, or that the penalties will be steeper.

A recent case from Texas shows that’s definitely not the case.

The Texas Case

According to a Law360 article, a Texas state court judge sentenced Susan Gay Pruitt to 22 years in prison. Her crime? Selling investments in fake oil and gas projects.

You may be thinking that she defrauded investors of millions and millions of dollars to deserve such penalty. But that’s not the case. In fact, according to the article, she defrauded investors of only $225,000.

You may be thinking that she challenged the government at every step and made them take her to trial in a lengthy proceeding. That’s not true either. She pleaded guilty.

The Pennsylvania Case

When I saw the article about Ms. Pruitt’s sentence, I was shocked by its length (of the sentence, not the article). The same day, I saw another article about a defendant in Pennsylvania named Daryl Stevens who sentenced to a year in federal prison after pleading guilty to mail fraud.

Mr. Stevens had apparently set up fake companies to sell nonexistent products to a pharmaceutical company. The total fraud in that case was $1.2 million.

I took a look at the judgment documents to Mr. Stevens case. He pleaded guilty to four counts of mail fraud and aiding and abetting. The judgment then says “the defendant is hereby committed to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to be imprisoned for total term of 12 months and one day.”

Mr. Stevens was also ordered to pay about $180,000 in restitution.

Digression on Year-and-a-Day Sentences

You may be wondering why defendants are sometimes sentenced to a year and a day, rather than just a year. This longer sentence on paper can allow the defendant to serve a  shorter sentence in reality.  Under 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b), an inmate with a sentence of more than a year is eligible for good time credits. These are credits earned in prison for good behavior.

If the inmate follows the rules, that he can receive up to 54 days of credit of each year of his sentence. This is about 15% of the total time to be served. However, if a defendant is sentenced to a year in prison, he’s not eligible for this credit under § 3624(b). He will have to serve 365 days of his year-long sentence rather than 312 days of a year-and-a-day sentence.

Comparing the Possible Federal Sentences in Both Cases

So let’s take a look at the likely sentences that would have been imposed on Mr. Stevens and Ms. Pruitt under the federal guidelines, assuming that there were no plea deals.

The amount of loss attributable of Mr. Stevens could either have been $1.2 million or $180,000. The government’s sentencing memorandum stated that the amount of the loss was $224,918, so we can use that as a maximum loss amount.

Under section 2B 1.1, Mr. Stevens have a base offense level of 7, and the loss amount would add 10 levels, for a total of 17. Assuming no criminal history, this results in a sentencing range of 21 to 27 months.

The amount of loss attributable to Ms. Pruitt was $225,000.

The same exact calculation would apply as for Mr. Stevens. She would likely be sentenced to 21 to 27 months in prison.

That sentence simply cannot be compared to the 22 years Ms. Pruitt received in Texas state court. But there’s simply no way that a $225,000 fraud should earn someone 22 years in prison. That’s a sentence for a Bernie Madoff or the head of a massive drug ring that used violent means.

Stop Thinking that Federal Crimes Are More Serious

There’s no doubt in my mind that sometimes the federal sentencing guidelines are unfair and lead to sentences that are far more serious than the offense. Usually this arises when the government adopts an aggressive view of the “loss” at issue in the case.

Every case is different. I don’t know all the facts of Ms. Pruitt’s case but I have a hard time believing that she deserved that sentence, no matter what she did.

As these two cases show, the federal courts may be more sane when it comes to sentencing policy and practice. Sometimes.

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7 Responses to Everything’s Bigger in Texas, But this Sentence Is Absurd

  1. silentrunneriam says:

    Susan is my best friend. Thank you for stating the facts of just how overboard this judge went in her sentencing. There is more to this case than meets the eye. The actual perpetrator died and left Susan holding the bags for his crimes. She has been in jail for over a month now. As of December 8th 3016 she was moved and no one will tell us where she is.

    • silentrunneriam says:

      Correction: December 08, 2016

      • Thomas says:

        Ms Pruitt, Shoor, Gay, any other of the 25 or so alias’s, or whatever she is calling herself today deserves MORE than what she has been sentenced…there were MANY more victims of this pathological liar and scammer than were included in the charges that she has been sent to prison for. I am one of them, that was once her “best friend” also…she cost me everything I ever owned PLUS…If ever anyone deserved exactly what she got if not more it is the personage of Susan Gay Pruitt may she die imprisoned.

  2. nehinze says:

    Do not be her latest fools. Susan Gay O’brien Pruit Schoor is a dangerous self-serving criminal. A True psyhcopath. She cares not who she hurts… she just steals money. Simple.
    Now, that said… I understand her “abused” childhood. But that is no excuse. I have known many people grew up with horrible parents and became great parents in gallant defiance.
    Susan will be up for parole in 33 months (Texas 1/8 of Sentence). I think that the people she (including me) hurt … will fight her release. Add to all of this her lousy Mom care of her only daughter Alyssa.
    I am ashamed of ever being near her. She is evil. And she must not be allowed to walk among the Good.

  3. Pingback: 2016 – A Bad Year For Bad Guys in Energy | AtlanticForest Times

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  5. jndblu says:

    Ms. Pruitt, among other things, purposely drug out proceedings. Ms. Pruitt worked out a plea deal she obviously had NO intention of honoring. Ms. Pruitt also did not show up at a pre-trial hearing. I, too, was a close friend who lost money. She did everything she could to avoid the inevitable. The Texas State Securities commission did a bang up job in putting forth a very compelling case, but in the end it was Ms. Pruitt who’s blatant disregard for the judicial process earned such a stiff sentence.

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