2002: THE YEAR OF WISDOM
Americans Need To Open Their Eyes To a Failed Experiment
By: Dr. Robert Blesh
While milling through numerous paper-clippings of the last decade's tragedies. a particular event drew my attention -- the incident which took place at McDonald's when open gun-fire echoed throughout the establishment annihilating God's most precious creations. Over a sip of coffee, I contemplated whether such behavior manifesting itself in a form of unspeakable violence will be repeated when federal prisoners are released after serving 23, 30, or 50+ years in prison as first-time non-violent offenders under the mandatory sentencing structure of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines, an experimental remedy for imposing punishment in federal cases, has only yielded tremendous prison population growth ripping apart the family unit -the same fiber of which the Founding Fathers so proudly advocated as the backbone holding America together.
I never knew how the Federal Sentencing Guidelines worked until I ran across a case in which a young, talented attorney named Diana Webb was indicted as a first-time non-violent offender in a drug conspiracy.
Diana came from a loving family. A native of Europe, she was born to a retired military father and an accountant mother who served as a housewife staying home with Diana and her older sister during their formative years.
After Thanksgiving, 1994, a bitter-sweet disaster began to blossom. Diana, while an attorney, in Kansas City, Missouri, met Glen Monteer -- a charming real estate entrepreneur looking for investors for a rehab project. The two were introduced by a mutual friend who believed the arrangement would be equally beneficial to both. She also assisted him with minor traffic violations.
Unbeknownst to Diana, a dark side dominated Monteer which included a cycle of alcohol and drug abuse which would later be reflected in erratic behavior problems in the form of physical fits of rage and outbursts.
Diana agreed to invest in one rehab home -a small investment under $20,000 to be backed by a Credit Union. Her interaction with Monteer was limited for the next two months as she traveled overseas to visit family. In February, 1995, Monteer began having financial difficulties. He mismanaged funds in the joint venture he and Diana entered into, leaving a situation of an incomplete rehab home uninhabitable due to lack of capital for window replacements. As Monteer was residing on the premises, the cooler weather from a fierce winter not subsiding, made it impossible to continue the venture. With no place to go and no money at hand, Monteer inched his way into the personal life of Diana Webb.
Diana's family describes her as a giving child with a big heart to the less fortunate. Diana's ambitions led her to follow a desire of pilgrimage to Calcutta, India, and serve at Kalighat -- the home for the dying originally opened by Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa was once criticized for the conditions at Kalighat to which she responded that "Kalighat was not to cure the sick, but to offer the poor people of Calcutta, who had been stripped of all human dignity, a chance to die beautifully."
As Diana's dream was unfolding, she would soon find herself instead joining the ranks of those who have been stripped of all human dignity by landing in federal prison. As much as Diana believed Monteer was putting out a shingle to build a real estate business, his secret dark life emerged and encompassed a drug-dealing scandal to feed his own addiction.
In March, 1995, Webb noticed strange changes in Monteer's behavior including vicious physical attacks against her and emotional and mental cruelty. She terminated the friendship and association in early summer. The final blow occurred when Monteer, on July 10, 1995, hid in the bushes of her home and when she arrived, man-handled himself into the residence inflicting brutal wounds with a baseball bat and tire iron, necessitating hospital treatment.
Some of the documented abuse Diana suffered at the hands of Glen Monteer
One would think that such an action would bring forth a prosecution of the offense, but instead a twisted turn of events enveloped her life. As Diana was healing from the experience, her inner self started to heal as well -- making way for the calm before the storm. Her self-esteem, once at an "all-time-low" both from the abuse from Monteer as well as a failed marriage due to alcohol and physical abuse from her ex-husband, was steadily rising. Over a year had finally passed during which time Diana was able to pick up the pieces and build a successful law practice and begin to fulfill her professional and personal life. Her employer stated she was "the best employee" he had ever had -- respected by both clients, judges and attorneys alike.
On August 22, 1996, life dealt yet another blow in the life of Diana Webb. An indictment was handed down in the Western District of Missouri for Conspiracy to Manufacture Methamphetamine, naming Diana, Monteer, and two other men as co-defendants. Diana was at a total loss. Here was a case, in which no drugs were involved, and all defendants were facing 10 years to life under the mandatory sentencing structure of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for a drug conspiracy. The three co-defendants provided sworn deposition testimony exculpating Diana from any wrong-doing.
If the circumstances in which Diana found herself weren't devastating enough, what happened next is just an incredible example of how law enforcement can succumb to the corruption of all other industries for the love of money, power, and career advancement. Her demise is a prime showing of how law enforcement can manipulate the system for self-gain due to its structure.
In the Federal system, there isn't any way to escape the clutches of the mandatory sentencing structure unless one becomes an informant for the Government. Judges no longer have discretion as they once did prior to 1987 in imposing sentences. The mandatory guidelines were implemented as the answer to be "Tough on Crime." But at what cost?
"Conspiracy" originally set its goal to target the "big fish" at the top who are commonly shielded by "underlings" and "mules" who physically transport drugs. What has happened is that under such a system a person may be brought before a Court of law as a criminal defendant with absolutely no evidence other than another offender's word conceivably resulting in a life sentence. Judges have no leeway to utilize their intelligence and wisdom in the exercise of imposing a sentence fair and reasonable under the individual circumstances of each case. The sentence is based on the drug amounts attributed to the conspiracy. Absolutely no tangible evidence is needed to create a prosecutable case. Since the prison stakes are of such a grave nature, co-defendants become desperate. The one who knows the most about the situation (the one who is the deepest involved) has the most to tell, and proceeds to do so embellishing the story to a prosecutor's satisfaction as the sentence reductions granted are based upon the amount of pleasing information provided. The motive to lie is enormous.
Under the guidelines, there are no alternatives available unless one wants to roll the dice and proceed to trial instead of accepting a plea agreement. In exercising one's right to be provided a trial, the Bill of Rights ensures that the accused has the right to confront witnesses and be represented by counsel. However, defense counsel is in the "one-hand-down" position since the indictment reads: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA YS. YOU. The U.S. attorney (prosecutor) introduces himself as "Joe Q. Lawyer" stating he represents THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Juries hear those words coupled with Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Internal Revenue Service, and are in total awe. At that point, one might as well tell his family he's not coming home and to break his plate.
When no drugs are presented in the case (as may commonly be the scenario in conspiracies, as the crime need not be consummated for a conviction), many of the jurors would be under the impression that the attorneys simply forgot to bring them. It would be inconceivable to an average juror that a drug case would convene without drugs as common sense would dictate that there should be physical evidence at a narcotics trial. To the dismay of many, this is not the case in conspiracy trials. A "dry conspiracy" is a charge based solely on hearsay testimony. "Testi-lying" or "The Liar's Club," to which government informants are commonly referred, has become a rampant solution to avoiding a lengthy prison sentence. The great shame is that if the original goals of the conspiracy statute worked, the testimony of an informant would be a valuable asset in convicting the most culpable offenders. However, in every single case which proceeds to trial, a jury is not apprised of all the information concerning both sides of the case; instead, only the information which the judge rules on may be heard. In actuality, the jury is never able to evaluate a criminal charge on its true merits because they are never know. In theory, a prosecutor's position as an officer of the Court is to ascertain the truth. In reality, a prosecutor paints as gruesome a picture of a defendant as he can because his job relies on his conviction rate. Courts will not allow jurors to be informed of the tremendously lengthy prison sentences imposed on the guilty or the substantial gains and rewards reaped by testifying informants and codefendants.
The "testifying train" has a domino effect. Once a person is pitted against an incredibly stiff penalty, human nature would dictate that he or she would say or do anything regardless of its truth or veracity. The next person in line who realizes that his indictment is based mostly on a lie is not willing to carry the heavy burden, and continues a pattern and the logical deduction -- we learn by example.
For Diana, when the detectives in her case realized the rewards of "taking down an attorney," an unbelievable power play exploded. The agents offered the co-defendants extraordinary leniency in their sentences in return for their testimony against her. Even though they had given sworn testimony on her behalf to the Government, the Government allowed the co-defendants to switch their stories, committing perjury, to be witnesses against her. Even though the co-defendants were repeat offenders, they were imposed sentences of 50 months for Monteer, 46 months for another codefendant, and 60 months for the "King Pin." All sentences were to be reduced by one year for participation in a drug treatment program as well as additional time deducted as "good time" credits. They received no additional charges for perjury, or otherwise. The co-defendants were entitled to keep their homes, duplexes, cars (including exotic models), businesses, and a very expensive Harley Motorcycle Collection. All property would have been subject to a Government forfeiture if they did not agree to testify against Diana.
Moreover, they were allowed to keep their cash; including all home loans by Monteer; they received free attorneys paid for by the Government; and they were placed at their choice of a minimum security prison camp. All three codefendants were released several years ago.
It then became a choice for Diana Webb -- proceed to trial and, if convicted, serve a life sentence which the Government threatened to recommend as well as the indictment of her family (mother and sister). A fine tool implemented by case agents in conspiracy cases is to threaten the indictment of family members since conceivably entire families may compromise conspiracies. If Diana accepted a plea agreement, she was facing a shocking 293 months in prison, but would have an "outdate." In the federal prison system, if sentenced to life, the outdate is "deceased" as there is no parole available. This enormous abuse reflected in the time calculation of Diana's sentence was based on the co-defendants' statements. Faced with the lesser of two evils, Diana accepted a plea agreement.
At a grueling sentencing hearing, in a well deserved turn of fate, the Government's expert witness, on his own accord, decided to testify on Diana's behalf instead of that of the Government due to the Duress and Coercion suffered at the hands of Glen Monteer.
Under the limited power of the bench, Judge Sachs imposed a sentence of 150 months in prison. Diana, as a first-time nonviolent offender, also lost her home and equity which was forfeited by the Government; her car was repossessed; her career was ruined; and her mother, a widow, mortgaged her own home to pay almost $100,000 in legal expenses. She now, at age 68, works as a babysitter to pay back the loan.
Diana's mother also paid the medical expenses incurred as a result of the assault of July 10th. The Government declined to press charges since Monteer became a Government witness. Had they pressed charges, the Crime Victim's Compensation Fund would have paid for the hospital and doctor bills. Diana has served five years in prison and has almost another decade to serve. She is housed at a higher-security federal institution, which houses violent offenders. All of this could have turned out differently if Diana chose to finger a judge or an attorney in a drug crime. In good conscious, she could not.
Many questions have probed my mind. What happens to a person who doesn't have any information for the Government and refuses to lie or out of fear, cannot cooperate? Do they simply get passed over and forgotten about? This just didn't sit well with me. What really went on "behind the scenes?"
Once again, if I didn't think the case was tragic enough, I came to a realization as to what truly transpired. The bottom line is that due to her status in the community, Diana became a target for a feather in the agents' cap. Whether a target is a public figure or an average person trying to make it in this world, you can't win in Federal Court and the attitude of case agents is one of "the end justifies the means." Whether the motive of the agents in any case is money, career advancement, or power; for a defendant, overcoming the hurdle of the constraints of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, is extremely difficult. "Justice seems to wait and is used to waiting," as the saying goes. I don't think any of this could be made any clearer than by letters written by Col. Gerald Schumacher, USAR (Ret), on behalf of Diana Webb. Col. Schumacher, stated, "During the investigation and subsequent prosecution of this case, I worked with Custom Agents as an intermediary between the Government agents and Ms. Webb. To my shock, the Customs agents successfully structured a case that erroneously depicted Ms. Webb as a major player in a drug ring. She was not.
Every effort was made to distort and exaggerate her involvement. This case was blown way out of proportion. The Government substantially misrepresented facts. Ms. Webb's extraordinary sentence was a consequence of a personal vendetta and unconstitutional activity on the part of the agents." A letter was even intercepted from an informant which stated: "I won't have a problem for perjury. . . 'all they want is an attorney' quote unquote." That witness's sentence was substantially reduced from close to 20 years down to five.
A lot of the referenced information was never brought forth in Diana's case because the defense attorney feared it would anger the agents and retaliation would occur. Attorneys tell me it goes on all the time. A unique aspect in Diana's case is that in addition to the testimony of Col. Schumacher, a case agent was surreptitiously taped by his own informants in which he himself called his witness liars on the Webb case and threatened and intimidated informants if they expressed reluctance to testify against Diana and say what the Government wanted them to say, regardless of the truth. A reference was also made to the fact Monteer molested a little girl and that the case had to be "swept under the rug" because he became a Government informant.
Many, many letters were written on behalf of Diana Webb advocating her release, including letters from various state and federal judges, former prosecutors, the former Vice-Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Senators, House Representatives, clergy, volunteers, and professors. Even Diana's sentencing judge, The Honorable Howard Sachs, wrote a letter to her, in pertinent part, stating, that if comparative sentencing were an issue to be considered that, conceivably, the U.S. attorney "...would conclude that a distortion has occurred ... and leniency was now in order. I would be happy if that occurred..."
So there you have it. The preconceived notion and image projected to America that our prisons are filled with violent thugs enlightens into a stunning reality: Of the two million people imprisoned today, most of them simply do not need nor deserve to be there. The American tax dollar ($28,000+ per year) to house offenders would be better spent implementing treatment plans and facilities to deal with the underlying problems of drug use and addiction instead of trying to minimize the symptoms by locking up nonviolent individuals capable of being rehabilitated for 20, 30, and 50+ years. To then expect someone, after living and communing in an artificial environment for such a lengthy time, to be released back into society and lead a healthy normal life is incredulous. The key to acceptance of a wise change in the law is public awareness.