Originally created 05/15/05

Williams could face 17 years



Former Georgia Rep. Robin Williams could be facing significant jail time from his health care fraud conviction in U.S. District Court, as little as nine years or as much as 17 years, those familiar with federal sentencing guidelines said.

Mr. Williams was convicted May 5 of bilking the Community Mental Health Center of East Central Georgia, along with former center Director C. Michael Brockman, pharmacist Duncan Fordham, and lobbyists M. Chad Long and Rick L. Camp. Sentencing probably will not occur until July because the federal probation office has 30 days to prepare a presentencing report and U.S. District Court Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. usually gives both sides 30 days to file objections to the report before setting sentencing dates, said Assistant Attorney General Harrison Kohler.

"Whether everybody will be sentenced in one day, I don't know," he said.

Mr. Williams probably has many years in prison hanging over his head, in part because he was convicted of two counts of money laundering, experts said.

"That's where he's going to run into his big problem," said John Garcia, a former assistant U.S. attorney now in private practice.

The federal government provides severe penalties for money laundering because it is often invoked in drug cases, said Ron Carlson, a professor at the University of Georgia School of Law.

"It's part of the war on drugs," he said. It is also often invoked in gang and organized crime cases and could be an asset for those pursing corporate criminals.

"I think it's probably going to be a real tool for prosecutors of white-collar crime," Mr. Carlson said.

Federal sentencing guidelines use a point system in which the defendant starts off at a certain level and points are added for the severity of the crime and the amount of money involved, Mr. Garcia said. An offense involving more than $1 million, for instance, adds a significant number of points. Mr. Kohler estimates that the conspiracy netted about $1.5 million, not including $250,000 that was paid back soon after the investigation began.

Though he was familiar with the details of the case only through news accounts, Mr. Garcia said the federal guidelines might recommend a sentencing range of 108 to 135 months for Mr. Williams.

"The short answer is I think Robin Williams is looking at a boatload of time, a whole lot more time than anybody would want to do," Mr. Garcia said. "It's a substantial penalty."

Points also are added for the sophistication of the crime, for obstruction, whether it was done over time, and for perjury, Mr. Garcia said. If more points are added, that could increase the sentencing recommendations to 135 to 168 months or even 168 to 210 months, Mr. Garcia said.

"If you go to the top end, you're starting to knock on the door of 20 years," he said.

Money laundering carries a sentence of as much as 20 years.

Those are only recommendations for the court to consider, Mr. Garcia said. Because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year, Judge Bowen can impose a heavier or lighter sentence, he said. Federal prison sentences, however, are served without the possibility of parole.

When he was prosecuting drug cases, Mr. Garcia said, convicted defendants would sometimes try to help themselves by offering information on others, but that is rare in white-collar crimes. Even if he were to want to testify against others, Mr. Williams probably would face credibility problems, Mr. Garcia said.

"The other thing is the government at this point may not want to give him a break because he put them through ... about a 10-day trial," Mr. Garcia said. "And you've got another factor. Since this guy was a politician and the government's theory is he got these contracts in large part because of his past political associations, there's going to be significant public interest in not giving the guy a break, no matter what."

Reach Tom Corwin, Sandy Hodson and Sylvia Cooper at (706) 724-0851 or newsroom@augustachronicle.com.