Like Manafort, defense attorney Drew Hutcheson argued, 71-year-old David Miller was an older family man whose criminal conduct was “a complete aberration.” Miller and his wife stole from his company, a state senator and an autism nonprofit between 2011 and 2014.
Ellis disagreed, imposing a sentence of seven years and four months. He told Miller, “You still don’t live in the real world” and “need to be deterred.”
Comparisons to Manafort dominated much of the argument over Miller’s fate. Manafort was ultimately given a total sentence close to Miller’s after pleading guilty to related crimes in federal court in Washington. But his Virginia punishment inspired outrage among some who saw it as an example of bias in a criminal justice system that favors wealthy white men.
For defense attorneys, the sentence was an opportunity. Ellis’s admonition that even a day in jail is arduous has been repeatedly invoked in the past 12 months; Hutcheson called it “very wise.”
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye, who was part of the special counsel team that prosecuted Manafort, argued he had the unique authority to say Miller did not deserve that treatment.
“I know Paul Manafort; he’s not Paul Manafort,” Asonye told Ellis, according to a transcript of the hearing. “I have a lot of problems with Paul Manafort, and reasonable people can disagree about the length of Paul Manafort’s sentence, but this defendant is not Paul Manafort.”
Unlike Manafort, Asonye said, Miller took the stand at trial and committed perjury, and he has not admitted guilt or agreed with the government on restitution to victims. The government had asked for a sentence of at least 17 years.
Ellis called the argument “quite persuasive,” but cited Miller’s age as a reason to deviate from a harsher sentence.
Miller did apologize to his family, friends and former employer, while saying he “continue[s] to maintain my innocence in many respects.”
“I have lost everything,” he said, “the resources I hoped to use to make my family’s life better.”
As the top lawyer at a small air logistics company called SkyLink, Miller made $225,000 a year before an annual bonus. He owned homes worth more than $1 million dollars each in Fairfax County and Bethany Beach, Del.
“Financially, he amassed wealth that most would envy and many in this country can only dream to attain,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.
Over two years, Miller was also paid nearly $1 million dollars as a consultant for a Bulgarian businessman. He and his wife grew accustomed to that money, according to court records, which helped alleviate the burdens of raising two severely autistic children.
The Millers found other ways to supplement his income. They paid themselves $600,000 over four years from an autism nonprofit they co-founded, the Community College Consortium on Autism and Intellectual Disabilities. As general counsel of SkyLink, Miller made up fake law firms and awarded himself $368,000 in outside work. His wife, Linda Wallis, who was serving as a volunteer treasurer for Virginia state Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), stole about $650,000 from that campaign using the same fake law firms.
The couple spent the money on country club dues, private jets to the Caribbean and renovating their homes. When Miller was fired from SkyLink and told he could go quietly if he repaid the stolen money, he instead used money from the other fraud to fight his termination.
He insists he was unaware of the money his wife stole from Saslaw and equally large debts she incurred; she told FBI agents he was “clueless” about their finances. She also said he was unaware she had not paid their taxes for several years.
“That is highly implausible,” Ellis said at sentencing. “If he was ignorant, it was deliberate ignorance.”
Miller fought prosecution and forfeiture on those grounds for years, culminating in a trial last fall. Witnesses, including Saslaw, testified that the couple had no right to the money they stole and lied repeatedly to cover up their crimes. The autism organization folded, SkyLink shut down and Saslaw lost a quarter of his campaign contributions in an election year.
Wallis, who pleaded guilty in 2015, is set to be released from prison to home confinement in the coming weeks. Ellis agreed Friday that Miller would not go to prison until his wife was able to care for their children.
“We cry about this family,” Teresa Champion, who worked at SkyLink and on autism-related causes, told the court. She said she urged Miller’s wife to take advantage of programs supporting autistic children: “The choices that the Millers made were not the way to meet these needs.”
Miller was nearly jailed before sentencing when the government learned he had been accused of shoplifting at a Whole Foods Market and failed to inform his probation officer. But Ellis concluded it would be “heartless” to incarcerate Miller until he made plans for the care of his children. Since then, prosecutors alleged in court, Miller defrauded a Maryland tennis club and pursued a real estate investment “scheme.”
According to a transcript of the hearing, an earlier version of this story misquoted one portion of Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye’s comments regarding Paul Manafort. It has been updated.