Perhaps He Should Have Gone To Law School And Stolen $700,000 More
Tuesday, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge David Hansher sentenced Tim Russell to two years in prison and five years probation for stealing over $21,000 from a veterans organization responsible for Operation Freedom (a yearly event held over the Fourth of July during the years that Scott Walker was Milwaukee County Executive). At the time of the theft, Russell was a top ranking aide to Walker.
Russell is probably the highest profile individual to be convicted in connection with the seemingly-never-ending yet definitely running out of steam John Doe investigation into events occurring while Walker was County Executive. That investigation, triggered by concerns that Walker had over missing Operation Freedom money, has now been dragging on for almost three years.
Frankly, standing alone, I don't have an issue with the Russell sentence. $21,000 is a lot of money. Russell was a public official who breached a public trust. On top of that, Judge Hansher (correctly or incorrectly) found Russell to be without remorse.
Here's my problem.
Two weeks ago, Judge Hansher undercut a recommendation by the DA's Office and sentenced a guy named Brian Mularski to twelve months in the County Jail with generous work release privileges (in lieu of a 5 year prison sentence that was stayed). Mularski was a lawyer (now disbarred) who embezzled $737,000 from his law firm over a several year period. $737,000!
It's true that by the time of sentencing, Mularski had paid back $238,000 of the stolen money "from his own earnings and a family loan" (leaving him still about $500,000 in arrears). Additionally, Mularski wasn't a public employee like Russell (but was still certainly in a position of trust due to his profession). It's also true that Judge Hansher found Mularski, unlike Russell, to be truly remorseful.
Still, how can you really reconcile a guy who systematically steals $737,000 over a period of years getting a substantially lighter sentence than a guy who steals $21,000?
To me, these cases demonstrate the inconsistency that I think plagues the criminal justice system - especially in so-called white collar cases.
Back in the day, I vividly remember prosecutions where the sentence would depend not on how much the defendant stole but what judge the case was assigned to. Some judges viewed white collar theft seriously, some did not. Some judges viewed white collar crime seriously one day and not so seriously the next day depending on their mood.
This is why I'm a big believer in meaningful sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum sentences. I think there's way too much discretion vested in judges - all of which serves to undermine the criminal justice system via inconsistency and uncertainty.
Some will undoubtedly see a political component to Russell's sentence (Russell working for who he did and all). I don't think that would necessarily be fair to Judge Hansher however. As I said, a two year sentence for Russell strikes me as certainly being in the ballpark.
Still it's tough to reconcile the Russell sentence with at least one other recent case involving a significant breach of trust.
Maybe Tim Russell should have gone to law school (instead of working for Scott Walker) and stolen $700,000 more!