Former representative George V. Hansen, an Idaho Republican convicted more than two years ago of filing false financial disclosure statements, lost another round yesterday in his protracted legal struggle to stay out of prison, but did win more time to appeal the latest court rulings.
U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green rejected Hansen's plea for probation, despite his attorney's insistence that the 55-year-old Hansen is "crushed by what has happened."
Green reaffirmed his sentence of five to 15 months in prison and a $40,000 fine, which she noted she had imposed "two years and one day ago." She tersely stated that she had "considered all the factors" and the sentence was "appropriate."
However, she granted another postponement in the sentence, which had been scheduled to start Thursday, after Hansen's attorney, Nathan Lewin, sought time for further appeals. Hansen has taken the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear his appeal, but he now may appeal Green's refusal to reduce his sentence or grant him a new trial.
Justice Department prosecutor Reid Weingarten vehemently opposed Hansen's probation request, asserting that the former seven-term congressman has failed to show any "remorse" or " contrition" since his felony conviction in April 1984. Hansen was convicted of filing false financial disclosure statements, including three concealing his family's financial dealings with Texas billionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt.
Hansen, who was formally reprimanded by the House of Representatives after the conviction and lost his 1984 reelection bid by 170 votes, told the judge: "The prosecutor talked about remorse. I don't know what it takes to have remorse after what I've been through, unless I were to crawl to their feet and ask forgiveness."
However, the flamboyant conservative also told the judge that the case came down to "how to fill out a government form and whether it was done honestly." He concluded, "I am very sorry . . . but I must leave this with your honor: There was no hiding of information ."
Weingarten saw it differently, telling Green that "virtually everything he Hansen touched smacked of fraud and misrepresentation."
Lewin also argued that Hansen has been unfairly "singled out" for prosecution by the Justice Department, an argument previously rejected by Green. He told the judge that other officials, including Attorney General Edwin Meese III and Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, were investigated for violations of the same act, "but the government chose not to prosecute."
Lewin asserted: "If Congressman Hansen is sent to jail, he will be literally the only person subjected to this sanction in the history of the Ethics in Government Act." The act was passed in 1978 and requires top-level government officials to list their incomes, assets and liabilities.
Weingarten countered that this was "simply false," citing prosecutions of a federal judge in Mississippi, a high-ranking postal official and others.
Despite Green's latest rulings, Hansen emerged from court yesterday to tell reporters: "We're basically back where we started. I feel good. We have the strongest points for appeal we've ever had."
Hansen is placing high hopes in a bill, introduced by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), that states that civil penalties are the only penalties to be applied for violations of the financial disclosure requirements of the Ethics in Government Act. That, according to a Senate staff member, was the original intent of Congress and the new bill would cover all filings since the act was passed in 1978.
Hansen's attorney, Lewin, said yesterday that passage of the bill would make the Hansen prosecution "moot" and the criminal case would "be wiped off the books."
However, an aide to Hatch said, "I've not talked to anyone who felt it would go that far." He added that Senate hearings are scheduled next week, and "we'll see if that might be one effect" of the language in the bill.