After only 14 months of his eight-year sentence, convicted swindler Carvel R. Shaffer was released from prison - and U.S. Attorney Brent D. Ward is disgusted.
Ward told reporters Tuesday afternoon the action by U.S. District Judge David Sam proves America needs sentencing guidelines. The guidelines, recently struck down by Utah's federal judges as unconstitutional, were intended to "stop judges from playing Santa Claus," he said.Shaffer, a lawyer and the former president of AFCO Enterprises, was convicted along with Grant Affleck in the AFCO swindle. Hundreds of homeowners lost their mortgages, which totaled more than $20 million, although the lending institutions were forced to pick up much of the tab.
In October 1987, Sam sentenced Shaffer to eight years in prison, just two years less than Affleck drew from U.S. District Judge David K. Winder. Both defendants filed motions for reductions of sentences within the 120-day limit, and Winder swiftly turned down Affleck.
But while Sam held a hearing on Shaffer's petition, he never responded to it - until just before Christmas.
"I have learned that without notice to me, Judge David Sam has released Carvel Shaffer from prison. He did so about Christmas Eve, and thereby in effect commuted an eight-year sentence into a 14-month sentence," Ward said.
He suggested that Sam released Shaffer as "an act of compassion, for which he is well known." At the same time, he said, it is also an "act of infamy and will be known as such for a long time."
Shaffer has been serving his time in the federal prison at Lompoc, Calif. He is released to the halfway house in Salt Lake City, where he may remain up to an additional 38 months.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Lambert said the halfway house isn't considered incarceration.
Sam's nine-page ruling that released Shaffer says the sentence has accomplished its original intention "by way of punishment and deterrence."
The judge added that as far as possible, "prisons should be factories with fences and not merely warehouses where inmates cease to be motivated to become productive members of society and instead evolve into more hardened and dangerous individuals."
Shaffer can now begin earning his way and attempting to repay his victims, Sam wrote. He is required to make restitution under direction of the U.S. Probation Office.
Sam also discussed the impact of the sentence on Shaffer's family. But Ward responded by pointing to the "impacts of the crimes of Mr. Shaffer upon the victims."
Shaffer's family is no different from that of other criminals who have to pay for their crimes, he said.
"In the nature of things, a penalty is required," Ward said.
He said the original sentence was believed to be a deterrent, but now it's "nothing more than a piece of paper, if it can be undermined, if it can be reduced and commuted as it has been here.
"It becomes a mockery of a sentence."
Ward said the federal prosecutors and staffs go through an "unholy" effort whenever they prosecute a major fraud case.