Originally created 04/11/98

Ex-prosecutor investigated after criticism of sentence



LANCASTER, S.C. -- The FBI is investigating whether a former prosecutor violated civil-rights laws, after a national victims' rights group complained he got a light sentence in state court for sex and bribery convictions.

Kim Roberts was sentenced to 90 days in prison and allowed to leave jail during the day to work. He spent only 46 nights in jail, being released March 23 for his good behavior and work in a prison laundry.

Mr. Roberts had faced 20 years in prison. The average time served by people convicted of similar charges is about 4 1/2 years, according to court and prison records.

The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network complained to the Justice Department.

"It just seemed that there were some unanswered questions," RAINN Director Deborah Andrews said Thursday. "It certainly didn't seem like the charges were taken seriously."

Richard Roberts, chief of the Justice Department's criminal section of the civil-rights division, responded to Ms. Andrews.

"You can be assured that if the evidence shows that there was a prosecutable violation of federal criminal civil rights statutes, appropriate action will be taken," he wrote.

The U.S. attorney's office in Columbia contacted the state attorney general's office earlier this week for details on the case. Neither the FBI nor Nancy Wicker, a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office, would comment.

Charlene McGriff, director of Palmetto Citizens Against Sexual Assault in Lancaster, said she hopes federal officials charge Mr. Roberts.

"The way I look at it, because of his position as a former assistant prosecutor, he should have been held up as an example rather than been let off so lenient," said Ms. McGriff, who alerted RAINN.

Mr. Roberts originally faced up to 40 years in prison on bribery charges and three counts of criminal sexual conduct. Two charges were dropped in a plea bargain.

Mr. Roberts admitted he coerced a woman into oral sex in a courthouse office in exchange for dropping a drunken-driving charge, and tried to do the same with another.