A California executive, Toby MacFarlane, exclaimed, stating that there should be no more tolerance for him than a common thief “because he is who you are: a thief”. MacFarlane received six months behind bars.
And when Douglas Hodge, former CEO of the main investment management company Pimco, got up in February to be sentenced, US district judge Nathaniel Gorton did not hold back, reproaching him for his “inconceivable and egregious” behavior.
“There is no English term to describe your conduct better than the Yiddish term ‘chutzpah,” said Gorton to Hodge, who admitted to having paid $ 850,000 in over a decade to bring four of his children to the University of Southern California and Georgetown University as false athletic recruits.
Hodge was sentenced to a nine-month prison sentence, the longest so far in the nation’s college admission scandal that erupted a year ago this week, shaking the foundations of higher education.
Gorton, appointed to his post in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush has a reputation within the Boston federal court as a severe, serious, no-frills judge, with a record of having sentenced tougher sentences than others on the bench in the American district of Massachusetts.
Tough but fair, many lawyers say.
The 82-year-old lived up to that billing in his first few sentences in the outrageous hit film “Varsity Blues”. So far, he has not only pronounced three of the longest sentences for guilty parents – even though it is still much shorter than what prosecutors have sought and many in public desire – has candidly let everyone know that he considers their conduct despicable.
Gorton has followed a formula: each parent stands up to feel their punishment, extracts prepared observations and then shares his disgust in no uncertain terms.
Gorton’s relentless approach to admissions is significant because he could anticipate what awaits us for 15 parents who are still battling federal charges, including “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin. While parents and college coaches who pleaded guilty and renounced their trial rights went before four federal judges, Gorton will chair the parental jury trials. If found guilty later this year, they will face the wrath of the judge.
College Admissions Scandal Tracker:Who pleaded guilty, who went to prison and who is still fighting
The judge departs from the sentencing guidelines
For most of the admission case, which emerged publicly a year ago, when the FBI made arrests in the homes of wealthy parents who had paid for a plan led by university counselor Rick Singer, the action took place in the courtroom of the district judge. American Indira Talwani.
His sentences ranged from probation, but no prison for businessman Peter Jan Sartorio, who paid Singer $ 15,000 to falsify his daughter’s ACT score, five months in prison for Augustin Huneeus Jr., an owner of a vineyard that paid Singer $ 300,000 for both recruiting tricks and plots.
More:Loughlin’s attorneys claim that new evidence proves innocence; test scheduled for October
Determining universities and test companies did not suffer monetary losses, Talwani determined that federal sentencing guidelines used to decide prison sentences should fall under the federal fraud statute, rather than a tougher commercial corruption statute required by the public ministries. This limited the sentences to no more than 6 months, regardless of how many times a parent paid the scheme or the bribe amount.
But Gorton began each sentence by citing the “unique circumstances” of the scandal as a reason to depart from those same guidelines if he deems it appropriate. He cited a clause that allows it when the primary target of a crime was an “aggravating non-monetary target”.
Thirty-six parents are accused of paying bribes to Singer, the mastermind of the national program, to fix test scores on their children’s entrance exams or to have them incorrectly labeled as athletic recruits to get them admitted to prestigious universities. Twenty-one pleaded guilty.
“Even if I don’t perceive any calculable loss for USC and ACT, certainly there has been a loss for the general education system in this country,” said Gorton during the sentencing of Janavs, who admitted that he agreed to pay $ 300,000 for getting the ACT of both of her daughters the score was set and her eldest daughter admitted to the university as a volleyball recruit.
Parents mourn desperate times. However, a judge opts for prison.
Gorton said that the loss, although indeterminable, “certainly has been significant”. He still sentenced Janavas under the six-month limit – corresponding to the time Talwani gave Huneeus, whose case had similar circumstances – but went further with Hodge’s nine months.
Gorton made it clear that he would sentence Hodge to more than a year in prison and Janavs close to one year if not for their extensive charitable work.
Unlike other cases prior to Gorton, prosecutors will have to prove to the jury that Loughlin and other parents are guilty. But if convicted, they will face a judge who will not be bound by the guidelines and a judge who sees national significance in the case.
“Higher education in this country aspires to be a meritocracy,” said Gorton in November, condemning MacFarlane, who pleaded guilty to paying $ 450,000 to admit his daughter and son to the USC as false recruits. football and basketball.
“Those who work harder or get the best grades are rightly accepted in the best schools. You had the audacity and self-exalting impudence to use your wealth to cheat and circumvent the rules that apply to everyone else.”
More:Judge calls USC dad a “thief”, so far sentenced the longest prison sentence in college admissions scandal
“A risky move” for parents on trial
The defendants who pleaded guilty obtained credit in their sentences for showing remorse and accepting responsibility, but the same would not have been granted to Loughlin and other parents put on trial. Claiming not guilty of federal charges, including bribery, they claimed that Singer said their payments were “legitimate donations” to help athletic programs in universities, not bribes from college officials.
More:“Legitimate Donations”: Lori Loughlin’s attorney anticipates defending college admissions in court
If found guilty, Daniel Medwed, a professor of law and criminal justice at Northeastern University, says that Gorton’s decision to depart from the conviction guidelines “promises nothing good for the accused.”
“Going to trial is always risky in federal court because sentencing is so harsh if you are convicted,” said Medwed. “But I think it’s perhaps more risky with Gorton than other judges because of his history of being tough on crime … obviously the defendants have the constitutional right to a jury trial, and this is a decision that depends entirely on them, but it’s a risky move. “
Gorton, considered conservative compared to his peers on the Boston bench, graduated from Dartmouth College and Columbia University School Law School. A recreational hockey player to date and an amateur actor, he is the brother of former United States Senator Slade Gorton, R-Wash., Who has served two terms in the Senate.
The brothers come from the family that founded the Slade Gorton Seafood Company in Gloucester, Massachusetts in 1928. The history of their ancestors in the fishing industry dates back to 1849.
Prior to his judicial appointment, Gorton practiced law in Boston for over 25 years, including as a partner and director in civil litigation at Powers & Hall, who merged with another company after he left.
Among his recent important decisions – and one that shocked liberals – was his 2017 ruling against extending his temporary stay to President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from seven Muslim countries. In that decision, Gorton cited the president’s broad authority over immigration.
In 2018, he rejected Massachusetts Democratic Prosecutor Martha Healey’s challenge to Trump’s new rules, making it easier for employers to refuse to provide insurance coverage for certain birth control methods if they support moral objections.
And in a victory last year for Uber, Gorton spoke out against a complaint from taxi companies that claimed the ride-share company violated consumer protection laws when it was launched in Boston.
“From a criminal perspective, it’s tough but fair,” said Mark Pearlstein, a white collar criminal defense attorney at Boston’s McDermott Will & Emery law firm and a former prosecutor practicing at the federal court. “I think the defendants will have a fair trial before him, but I think that, in terms of sentencing practices, he tends to impose harsher penalties on the defendants than many other judges in that building.”
Although his condemnation is generally favored by the government, Pearlstein described Gorton as thoughtful. “There is a strong moral current flowing through his comments that somehow underlines his vision of condemnation.”
The data confirm Gorton’s tough reputation. According to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data collection organization at Syracuse University, Gorton’s average prison sentence was 53.7 months over a five-year period from 2013 to 2017. It is 23.4% higher than to other federal judges in Massachusetts and 14.9% above the national average.
More:“What Makes Your Child Legitimate?” The judge assumes the privilege while condemning the parents in the college scam
Other Massachusetts judges ranged from 29.2 months to 57.1 months in average terms, leading Gorton to the upper end. The five-year average of Talwani was 32.7 months.
“He understands his role in sentencing and I believe his sentencing philosophy as a federal judge must land in the middle of the bell curve nationwide,” said Roberto Braceras, white-collar defense attorney at Goodwin Procter LLP. and a former Washington attorney, D.C., who worked for Gorton after law school.
He said that Gorton examines the national data and that it is important for him to be consistent: “It may not be in the middle of the Boston bell curve, but it is compared to his fellow federal judges.”
Braceras described Gorton as a hardworking judge, who reads everything in front of him, works long hours, loves work and has a fair trial.
“He will not be influenced by the media or external factors, but will use his own judgment and evaluation of the case as a whole to determine what he thinks is an appropriate sentence,” he said.
Admission scam:Parents and feds accuse each other of “judging purchases”
Accused of “buying judges”
In the case of admissions, Talwani’s prison terms were in part shorter than Gorton’s because he had cases where parents paid less money in Singer’s plan. For example, she gave actress Felicity Huffman two weeks in prison for paying $ 15,000 for having someone cheat on her daughter’s SAT exam.
In contrast, each of Gorton’s defendants paid the most expensive recruitment plan, engaged with Singer several times, and on some occasions even took part in the plot to defraud the tests.
But Gorton’s name preceded him.
Weeks in the case of admissions last April, he was the subject of “accusations of the purchase of judges” from the parents’ defense attorneys. They contested prosecutors who decided to accuse their parents of a substitute charge of defendant David Sidoo, a businessman and parent from Vancouver whose case had already been assigned to Gorton.
The parents’ attorneys signed a letter to the chief judge of the Massachusetts District Court in the United States stating that their clients had no connection with Sidoo, calling it “a clear form of purchasing the judges”. They asked that their individual cases be randomly assigned to the judges.
United States Attorney Andrew Lelling replied, “What the counselor can’t say – but obviously means – is that they want a different judge because they perceive Judge Gorton how to impose longer sentences in criminal proceedings than other judges in his district. ; if the matter had been drawn to a judge deemed more supportive, the lawyer would not have sent the letter. “
Lelling called the letter “Ave Maria from people they know best”.
The objections did not work and the case remained with Gorton, who set two separate trials of two groups of parents last month, one in October and one in January. It came with direct words on both sides.
“Needless to say, it’s a high-profile case, but it won’t be tried in the newspaper or on the Internet,” said Gorton. He warned that “there will be consequences” if the constraint is not shown in this regard.
Join Joey Garrison and on Twitter @joeygarrison.