Will sentence suit the crime in AEA case?
One of the key participants in the scheme to defraud the AEA Federal Credit Union of tens of millions of dollars will face sentencing in a few days, and some are wondering if his punishment will reflect his crimes.
Even U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton, who is scheduled to sentence Yuma businessman Frank Ruiz on April 9, has questioned the federal government prosecutors' request that Ruiz receive only 12 months in prison and three years of probation. She postponed the original mid-March sentencing, saying she was “perplexed” by the recommendation, given Ruiz's critical role in the scheme that eventually involved $50 million in fraudulent loans.
Ruiz cooperated with the prosecution and pleaded guilty to lesser charges in return for a lighter sentence of up to 15 years in prison. Ruiz and William Liddle and his wife, Rhonda, were all charged in the fraud. Ruiz provided testimony against the Liddles that contributed to their convictions in February. The Liddles are scheduled to be sentenced in May.
Thomas Martin, the chief executive officer of AEA, has also made his anger known about the sentencing recommendation. In a letter to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which prosecuted the case, Martin said the recommendation showed “without a doubt white collar crime really DOES pay.”
He noted that Ruiz was a willing participant in the fraud and that losses to AEA from loans made or guaranteed by him would total nearly $19 million. He wrote that he had been assured Ruiz “would be looking at 7-10 years behind bars.”
Deal-making with accused criminals is unfortunately often necessary for successful prosecutions. It is accepted that those who cooperate and provide needed supporting testimony will receive consideration in sentencing. The question is what is a fair amount of consideration? At what point does consideration for someone turn into rewarding them for their misbehavior?
It is a question Judge Bolton will have to answer. It does seem the sentencing recommendation is particularly light, given the role Ruiz played. We trust that the judge will properly weigh what is just and come to the proper sentencing decision.