Walter Weikers, a 67-year-old Baltimore furniture salesman, was sentenced to two years in prison today for attempting to bribe a juror in the aborted corrumption trail of Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel.
U.S. District Judge Frank A. Kaufman told Weikers that only the defendant's weak heart kept him from getting a stiffer sentence.
Federal prosecutors still believe that Weikers was acting for someone else. If that is so, there were no public signs today that Weikers was helping to identify that person. Weikers pleaded innocent to the charges and testified that the juror he was said to have bribed had solicited the money himself.
Commenting on Weikers' version of events, Kaufman said yesterday that he did not "attach credibility to that theory . . . The testimony (at Weikers' trail) was overwhelming that Walter Weikers made the first approach. What we have here is an attempt to bribe, to corrupt" the judicial system. That, he said, "is a very, very serious offense.
"There is no clue as to why he did what he did," the judge said of Wiekers. "Yet I can still wonder whether there could have been pressures brought on such a man. We just don't know."
Weikers was found guilty Feb. 4 of obstructing justice. He had offered $10,000 to juror Oscar Sislen, a relative by marriage, to make sure that Mandel was never convicted of the corruption charges. That attempt, and an earlier jury tampering effort, caused a mistrial when jurors heard news reports about them.
Weikers couls have received a sentence of five years in prison and a 5,000 fine.
Kaufman said he would recommend that Weikers serve at least one-third, or eight months of the sentence.
The only possible reason for an early parole would be if Weikers suffered serious medical problems in prison. Weikers has a history of heart disease and yesterday was seen taking pills for that problem.
Judge Kaufman also told Weikers he would "strongly recommend" that the sentence be served at the federal correctional institution at Allenwood, Pa., a minimum security prison where white-collar criminals are often sent.
Judge Kaufman let Weikers stay free on bond but ordered him to report to federal officials by 2 p.m. April 4 to begin his sentence. Weikers' attorney, Harold I. Glaserr, said such a date would allow his client to attend Passover Seders on April 2 and 3 at the homes of relatives.
"The sentence was fair, considering the circumstances, though I'm not guilty," Weikers told a reporter outside the seventh floor federal courtroom here. "The thing is for me to stay healthy and get out (of prison) and go back to work so I can pay off my debts," he said.
Weikers had to take out a $20,000 mortgage in order to post $100,000 bond under which he was held following his arrest last Novemver. He was later fired from his long-time salesman's job at Fradkin Bros. Furniture store in Baltimore.
Weikers maintained at his trial that it was Sislen, the father-in-law of his stepdaughter, who approached him about tampering with the jury in exchange for $10,000.
Weikers, whose face was alternately pale and then flushed, that the two-year sentence was intended to be both punishment to him and a deterrence to others thinking of trying to fix a jury.
"It is not a death sentence," Kaufman said, adding the federal prisons have what he termed "excellent" medical treatment facilities available. However, "a two-year sentence even for a healthy persons should be a sufficient deterrent to crime . . . personal liberty and good health are our most important blessings," the judge said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel J. Hurson had asked Kaufman to impose the maximum five-year penalty for what he called "the sinister" crime of jury tampering, which "few Americans" ever attempt. Walter Weikers "has been bransformed by his conviction from a husband, father, and furniture salesman" into an "obstructor of justice," Hurson said.