White collar criminal due to be released in 2754 asks federal appeals court for new sentence

By Greg Bluestein, AP
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

White collar criminal appeals 845-year sentence

ATLANTA — Bernie Madoff is serving 150 years in prison for a multibillion-dollar fraud. Norman Schmidt got 330 years for his role in a huge investment scam. And then there’s white-collar criminal Sholam Weiss, who isn’t due for release until November 2754.

Weiss was sentenced to 845 years in prison in February 2000 by a federal judge in Florida who said he should be removed permanently from society. Of course, Weiss wasn’t in court at the time. He had fled overseas while a jury was deliberating.

Austrian authorities eventually found him and sent him back, and now his attorneys want the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to order a new sentencing hearing. They’re hoping a judge would use different guidelines that would give him a sentence closer to 35 years or so.

Attorney Stephen Saltzburg was in court Wednesday in Atlanta to argue that the federal government reneged on a promise to resentence Weiss made in exchange for Austria agreeing to send him back to the U.S.

Weiss and six others were convicted or pleaded guilty in a plot that caused the 1994 collapse of the National Heritage Life Insurance Co. and cost many of the Orlando company’s 25,000 customers their life savings.

He disappeared after his nine-month trial but before the jury started deliberating. He was found guilty of all 93 counts of pocketing $125 million and given a sentence that the Department of Justice says is likely the longest ever handed down for a white-collar crime.

While on the lam, he settled in Brazil and traveled to Israel, Belgium and the United Kingdom. Investigators tracked him to Austria, where he was captured in October 2000. He was a shadow of the 260-pound man they had sought — he had lost 50 pounds, shaved his beard and had documents that identified him as Charles Dick.

An Austrian appeals panel initially refused to extradite him, saying he should be tried in Austria. But months later the court changed its mind, saying the extradition was no longer “contrary to human rights.”

Attorneys for Weiss say the change of heart came because federal prosecutors assured Austrian authorities that Weiss would be re-sentenced and allowed a full appeal.

But prosecutors said Wednesday there was never a formal agreement that he would be re-sentenced, just a suggestion of that in the diplomatic back-and-forth. Assistant U.S. Attorney Judy K. Hunt said Weiss was trying to use his flight from justice “as a sword to escape punishment for his extraordinarily serious criminal offenses.”

Hunt, who has worked the case for 16 years, told the three-judge panel that the “re-sentencing is not enforceable” and urged the judges in court filings to “stop Weiss’s campaign to re-escape.”

The panel could issue its ruling within months, which means Weiss will continue to wait in the United States Penitentiary-Canaan near Scranton, Pa.

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