Political maverick Lyndon LaRouche was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison on mail and tax fraud convictions for engineering a scheme to borrow millions of dollars without intending to repay the loans.
LaRouche, an unsuccessful presidential candidate who had faced the possibility of 65 years in prison and fines of up to $3.2 million, told U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. he believed the case was politically motivated. He had earlier called his conviction a "gross, disgusting, obscene miscarriage of justice.""I know myself to be innocent of any wrongdoing," LaRouche told the judge when asked if he had any comment before sentencing.
In addition to LaRouche, two associates were sentenced. Chief fund-raiser William Wertz and legal officer Edward Spannous were each sentenced to five years in prison. Wertz also was fined a total of $11,000, $1,000 for each of 11 counts against him. Spannos was fined $10,000 for 10 counts against him.
Each of four other fund-raisers were sentenced to three years in prison. Michael Billington and Dennis Small were fined $2,000 each on four counts; Paul Greenberg and Joyce Rubinstein were fined $2,000 each on three counts.
U.S. Attorney Henry Hudson said, "This has certainly been a very satisfying culmination to a very long journey."
Bryan, in imposing the sentences, said he was unwilling to accept the fact that simply because LaRouche and his aides were working for what they considered to be important political causes, they could justify the lending practices.
Responding to accusations by Spannous that the government's goal was to "crush LaRouche's organization," Bryan said, "I reject that as arrogant nonsense."
LaRouche, 66, was convicted Dec. 16 on 12 counts of mail fraud in the scheme that prosecutors painted as simple thievery. Fund-raisers persuaded people to lend more than $30 million by promising them high rates of interest and full repayment in one year.
Few of the lenders, many of them elderly retirees, were repaid. The government said telephone solicitors continued to borrow money despite complaints from people with outstanding loans.
LaRouche, who dismissed jurors as immoral and suggested he would be killed if sent to prison, also was convicted of defrauding the Internal Revenue Service by concealing his income to avoid paying taxes. La-Rouche has not filed tax returns since at least 1979, arguing that he had no income.
Outside the courtroom, between 50 and 100 LaRouche supporters chanted and sang songs proclaiming his innocence.
"He's the only one that stands for truth and justice," said Mike Hodgkiss, who drove to Alexandria from New Jersey to show his support. The courtroom was also packed with LaRouche supporters.
In a rambling statement, La-Rouche told the court a high ranking British intelligence official told him he could sway the outcome of his trial if he would respond to certain "unknown conditions." But he told the judge he would not bargain for justice.
He said when he refused to take action to influence his trial, he was told he was "consigned to hell."
LaRouche also said he was told that high-ranking U.S. officials were gloating over his convictions and that this has done "great damage to the United States." But Assistant U.S. Attorney Kent Robinson, who led the prosecution, said "This is not a political case. This was a case of theft."
LaRouche, who has been free on his own recognizance, has been working since his conviction and attended a human rights conference in Rome the week before sentencing, said a spokeswoman.