Sentencing postponed for Scott Bloch, former head of the Office of Special Counsel

The legal odyssey of Scott J. Bloch, the former head of the federal agency that protects government whistleblowers, continued Monday when a federal judge balked at proceeding with sentencing because of what he called an “improperly sanitized version of events.”

Bloch, the Bush-era head of the Office of Special Counsel, pleaded guilty in February to a misdemeanor charge of destroying government property when he ordered the deletion of office computer files by private technicians.

But U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkins chastised attorneys on both sides for presenting a narrow account of Bloch’s actions that the judge said doesn’t fully describe the conduct at issue. Wilkins said he was uncomfortable issuing a sentence until a fuller description of Bloch’s actions was in the record.

Sentencing documents, Wilkins noted, make little mention of Bloch’s previous deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in which he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of contempt of Congress.

Bloch’s lawyer, William M. Sullivan Jr., said after the hearing, “We look forward to addressing the issues Judge Wilkins raised during sentencing.”

Bloch admitted in 2010 that he had not given House investigators complete information about an incident in which he hired a company called Geeks on Call to scrub computers at the Office of Special Counsel. At the time, Bloch had been accused of retaliating against his staff and closing whistleblower cases without proper investigation. He has maintained that he was trying to deal with a computer virus.

Bloch was initially sentenced to 30 days in jail, but a federal judge allowed him to withdraw his guilty plea because neither side in the case had been aware that the offense required a sentence of jail time.

In the current case, federal guidelines call for a sentence from zero to six months in prison. But prosecutors have agreed not to oppose a period of probation and want Bloch to pay a $5,000 fine and complete 200 hours of community service.

Wilkins suggested Monday, however, that he intends to consider Bloch’s conduct related to the previous case, which could expose him to jail time. The judge pointed specifically to Bloch’s position as a presidential appointee, a “position of public trust, operating with little oversight.”

Bloch’s sentencing hearing has been rescheduled for June 24.

Watchdog groups representing government whistleblowers have been critical of a possible sentence of probation for Bloch, saying it would send a weak message about accountability.

Ann covers legal affairs in the District and Maryland for the Washington Post. Ann previously covered state government and politics in California, New Hampshire and Maryland. She joined the Post in 2005.
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