CONVERSATING ABOUT WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND!
By LC. DeVine
“The Punishment shall fit the offense.” Cirero
Many of the highly profiled white-collar crimes committed by females have occurred in the past decade and most of recent years. Today’s post has a great example of how the legal system works, both the positive and the negative. There’s a good example of how a defendant’s criminal act can in fact cross the line into multiple crimes and how the prosecutor/s go about charging a defendant based on the sentencing guidelines, which is usually based upon his/her level of cooperation (what he/she has to offer in exchange for a sentence reduction or the amount of money and time the case could cost the state/fed if a long drawn out case goes to trial). There is also an example of how the sentencing guidelines affects the time a person receives and how it is possible for a person that has not committed murder can be sentenced to prison for life.
Before I go further, the term ‘life’ in many instances (legal system) refers to 25 years in most states and with federal government. Natural life and life without parole means the prisoner will never gett out of prison, in general.
The CrimeDivas post of the day has many twists and turns, and would make for an interesting movie. The CrimeDiva today is Vasilia “Lia” Berger, aka Vasilia Klimantis, of Pittsburg, PA. Ms. Berger conviction involved wire fraud, violation of an administrative order, Sophisticated Means, Gross receipts from financial institution over $1 million, and money laundering. These charges stemed from a mortgage scam that totaled over $6,694,745. Ms. Berger was a mortgage broker at Steel City Mortgage Services, a company she and her estranged husband operated.
As I have mentioned most white-collar crimes come to surface purely by chance. In this case, the FBI were going through the trash [yes, they do this all the time] of an unlicensed real estate appraiser, Kenneth Cowden, and as bad luck would have it [that is for anyone committing a crime], they uncovered rogue appraisals for Ms. Berger, her husband, Jay, and numerous other mortgage brokers across the country. Those appraisals often overstated the true values of the properties serving as collateral for the loans. [Do you see how the link or chain reaction occur from crime to crime]. This scam like many others were the buildup to the mortgage crisis and financial collapse during the mid-2005- and onward. As a result, a lot of people went to prison . . . at least the low-level operators have.
Apparently, this case investigation started with Mr. Cowden around 2008 or before. In an effort to help himself, Mr. Cowden assisted [cooperated via providing valuable information to assist in the convictions against others] the FBI and was given a sentenced reduction and so did Ms. Berger’s husband [who was given 15 months]. When Ms. Berger’s decided to cooperate all the needed information had already been provided, therefore no deal was made on her behalf.
The court records show that Ms. Berger came from a very poor family and was a high school drop-out who went on to obtain her GED, and then an Associate Degree in Business. She worked at PNC bank for a while and then started her own company with her husband. The records show that the illegal situation was introduced into their company via the husband and his friend/business associate Mr. Cowden. However, Ms. Berger had full knowledge of the illegal business transactions, which they all were involved in.
On November 10, 2010, Ms. Berger, pled guilty to a two-count indictment charging her with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering and this set forth criminal forfeiture allegation [this is when the government seize property]. There was apparently a dispute about the money that is the $6,697,745. Her sentencing was initially set for March 4, 2011, but that was before her attorneys saw the amount of money the government charged her with ‘losing’ [stealing]. After numerous court filings and arguments in court, ruled that the amount of “loss” would be $6,694,745 . . . an 18-point increase over the base charge of wire fraud. The government prosecutors were not done. The base level offense for wire fraud was 7 points, +18 for the dollars involved, +6 for number of victims (calculated to be over 250), +2 for violation of an administrative order, +2 for Sophisticated Means, +2 for Gross receipts from financial institution over $1 million, +2 for money laundering, +4 for role in offense … Total 43 points. Berger did get credit for acceptance of responsibility (-2) and timely plea of guilty to avoid trial preparation (-1) … net Total points of 40 (Guideline range of 24 years, 4 months – 30 years, 5 months). This was Ms. Berger’s first offense.
The sentencing guidelines are broken down into a point system and if the crime falls within a certain point value that is the prison time assigned to the offense/defendant. This is usually negotated between the prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney until a plea deal is made, or not made. In court, a judge usually go along with these agreements unless there are other factors presented in which they can depart if ‘the Court’ chose to do so. It’s rare!
Ms. Berger’s attorney submitted a 69 page Memorandum In Aid of Sentencing, which in short painted a sad picture of a middle-aged woman, who came from a poor and disadvantage background and who now had a young child and who was being unfairly treated in comparison to those who have committed similar crimes – Being sentenced to what amounted to life. The legal fight went on until March of this year, 2013. The judge agreed and departed from the guidelines and sentenced Ms. Berger to 6 1/2 years.
There is yet another interesting aspect to this case, Ms. Berger does not have to report to prison until April of 2014, when her husband is released from prison. He will do 12 months that’s after good time, which the feds give for any time served over a year and a day. This is a very gracious act on part of the court, not many criminals are given such thoughtful treatment.
Only money can afford such arrangements. They must have had plenty of it to pay an attorney from 2009 through 2013, opened a restaurant, and to hire 12 employees. Her husband has a job waiting when he is released.
In reviewing this case you would wonder who was hurt. The clients that secured the mortgages usually got money at closing. It seems everyone made-off, but what about the taxpayers that bailed the banks and other financial institutions out. It was not a victimless crime. There will always be a negative side to crime.
I am happy that the Bergers were able to obtain an attorney who was able to make the legal system work in favor of his/her client and that Ms.Berger was able to get fairness in the legal process; but hundred of thousands are railroaded through the legal system every year because they do not and cannot afford experienced representation.
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