Jemal Avoids Prison For Fraud

Downtown developer Douglas Jemal was fined $175,000 and given probation for defrauding a lender.
Downtown developer Douglas Jemal was fined $175,000 and given probation for defrauding a lender. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Downtown developer Douglas Jemal avoided prison when a federal judge yesterday sentenced him to probation and declared that the countless good works he has performed for Washington and its residents far outweighed his financial fraud conviction.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina said the maverick leader of Douglas Development Corp. was "one of those rare cases" and that he felt compelled to balance the community's views about Jemal's character against the prosecution's demand for punishment.

More than 200 people from all walks of life submitted testimonials describing Jemal's kindnesses and generosity. Their letters told how Jemal found them jobs, cut their rent or gave them money during times of great need.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Jemal faced a recommended three-year prison sentence for defrauding a lender of $430,000. As he stood before the judge, Jemal apologized to his family, friends and to the city for some careless and sloppy business practices that he blamed for his legal troubles.

"I know I made mistakes, and I know I'm not perfect," he said. "I would ask your honor to look today at the whole person. I care about buildings that have been abandoned and left alone. And I care about people who've been abandoned and left alone. I care very much about this adopted city of mine."

When the judge said it was "inconceivable" that he should force the 64-year-old businessman to go to prison, Jemal broke into tears. Urbina said he often has shown more leniency to violent drug offenders who repeatedly harmed the city but were helping the government convict their criminal associates.

Urbina ordered Jemal to pay a $175,000 fine for his role in the fraud.

Prosecutors initially sought a prison sentence of up to five years for the financial fraud conviction, and later agreed that 33 to 41 months was a proper penalty. The judge's rejection of the prison sentence floored the U.S. attorney's office and its public corruption team, which spent three years on the case.

Jemal's sentencing came nearly six months after a jury rebuffed most of the government's case, acquitting him of charges that he had bribed a former D.C. government official in return for sweetheart city leases on an impound lot and other properties. Jemal drew the prosecution's wrath when he described being convicted of only one of seven counts as "just a splinter."

The sentencing decision brought elation to a courtroom packed with Jemal's family, friends and extended network of investors and other colleagues. They broke into cheers and applause after the judge announced his ruling, then lined the hallway outside the courtroom in receiving-line fashion. Jemal shook hands, clapped backs and murmured "Thank you, thank you" to them one by one as he exited -- all the while patting a handkerchief at his teary nose and cheek.

"I'm not opening my mouth, " Jemal said, laughing, when asked for his reaction. "It always gets me into trouble."

Jemal, who has a large portfolio of office, retail, commercial and residential properties, is heralded for reviving downtown with projects creating vibrant hubs of housing, restaurants and shops. He has helped transform areas that were shunned by other developers.

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