Rules Are Changing in White-Collar Sentences


With his prison pallor, oversized glasses and skinny arms poking from a wrinkled T-shirt, 63-year-old David Heath Swanson didn’t look like much of a threat. But U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker viewed him differently. She recently sentenced him to 12 1/2 years in prison, saying he would likely lapse back into crime. Is he a Mafia don? A drug kingpin? No, he’s a CEO.

Swanson was among the first corporate chief executives convicted in the recent government crackdown on white-collar crime, reports the Chicago Tribune. And he is an example of a simmering legal conflict over how to treat these convicts. Two decades ago Swanson might have had a shot at probation. Now, under much stricter sentencing guidelines, stiff penalties are the rule. As Barker told Swanson at his hearing, “The rules of the road have changed in no inconsiderable way.” The upshot: longer sentences than in the past, but also a rise in disparities from judge to judge. For example, WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers got a 25-year sentence while figures in the massive fraud at HealthSouth Corp. got home detention and probation.


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