A judge said on Nov. 30 that he would rather wait and hear from the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of federal sentencing guidelines before deciding how long he should send Broward County union kingpin Walter “Buster” Browne to prison. Although Browne’s sentencing has been delayed several times, U.S. Dist. Judge Jose E. Martinez (S.D. FL, G.W. Bush) did take action on another front. He said he was ordering Browne and his sister to forfeit more than $590,000 in assets to the federal government.
A federal jury in Miami convicted Browne in June of labor racketeering and fraud. After a two-month trial, the jury found that Browne and his sister, Patricia Devaney, lined their pockets by running the 7,000-member Fedtn. of Public and Private Employees like an organized crime racket. Devaney helped Browne pad his expense account and embezzled more than $116,000 from the union’s payroll.
About three weeks after the pair’s conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court shocked prosecutors, judges and public defenders nationwide by ruling that judges had been given too much leeway in determining the length of prison terms. The high court’s ruling stemmed from a Washington state case, but is expected to affect the federal sentencing guidelines as well. The Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the guidelines pass constitutional muster, and a decision could come any day — or months from now.
At issue in Browne’s case is whether he should receive a stiffer sentence for assuming a leadership role in a conspiracy with his sister, who also worked as his administrative assistant, to enrich himself at the expense of the union and its members. Browne and Devaney are free on bail.
Assistant U.S. attorneys Lawrence LaVecchio and Julia Vagliente contend Browne was the leader in the scheme, which could add two years to his sentence. But defense attorney Bruce Udolf disputes it. Martinez said that while he thinks Browne was the leader, “I don’t know that a jury has found that.” Ruling in Blakely vs. Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court said it’s the jury’s opinion that matters. The ruling, in short, said that judges cannot tack extra years onto a sentence by using factors that weren’t considered by a jury.
In an effort to make sentencing fairer, Congress enacted the current federal sentencing guidelines in 1987. Federal judges are issued a range of possible sentences for each crime. They can make factual findings that affect prison time, such as the amount of drugs distributed or the amount of money swindled. [Orlando Sun-Sentinel, 12/1/04]