U.S. District Senior Judge John J. Sirica, who says his media nickname of "Maximum John" is a isnomer, yesterday sentenced his last criminal defendant to a 30-month-to-8-year prison term in a white-collar case.
In a rare discussion of his sentencing philosophy, held on and off the bench, Sirica said the term was imposed because of his belief that white-collar criminal should receive substantial jail terms as do violent criminals.
On the receiving end of Sirica's final sentence was Eddie Lee Alston, 45, wo was convicted of bing the mastermind of a fraud scheme in which persons with bad credit ratings would pay anywhere from $240 to $1,000 to have their ratings improved at The Credit Bureau, Inc.
Sirica told Alston that he hoped a substantial sentence would "have a deterrent effect on people who might be tempted to work this kind of scheme and prey on poor people."
After the sentencing, Sirica - who will continue to hear only civil cases in his status as a senior judge - said the placing of a criminal defendant behind bars was the "worst problem judge has in a crininal case."
He decried the disparity of sentencing that he said plagues the criminal justice system.
"I don't know what the remedy is," Sirica said in an interview. But in white-collar cases, he added, "you have to think of the people who are serving time. A lot of people think only the poor man goes to jail. That's not true. In white-collar cases, they find out that people of substantial means can be incarcerated, too."
Sirica said he has received probably 50,000 letters because of his handling of the Watergate criminal cases, and many of them concern sentencying. He classified the letters as 90 per cent favorable, and 10 per cent "hate mail."
"The "hate mail," he said, usually berates him for imposing prison sentences on Watergate defendants while defendants in other cases unrelated to Watergate went free.
Letters also entered another phase of the judge's discussion on sentencing. He said he is bothered "most" by the letters from the families of criminal defendatns, who must suffer while the defendant is in prison.
"I look at the faces of the children of the defendant who might be in the courtroom, or their wives or husbands," he said, noting that members of Alston's family attended yesterday's sentencing and were sitting in the front row, one of them in tears.
But, he said, he felt he had to impose a prison term yesterday solely in the hope of deterring others from similar acts. He said he developed a belief in deterrence in white collar criminal cases over his 50 years as a lawyer and a judge.
"But," Sirica added yesterday, "I won't miss criminal sentencing at all."