Saturday, 2:15 PM
Judge questions sentence recommendation in blackmail case
By Jonathan Saltzman, Globe Staff
The chief judge of the US District Court in Boston today ordered federal prosecutors to justify why they are recommending that an alleged Canton prostitute receive a sentence of only six months in jail for extorting $280,000 in cash from a prominent Boston-area businessman in exchange for keeping their liaisons secret.
Chief District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf
Chief District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf said today that neither US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan's office nor lawyers for the alleged prostitute have explained why the woman, Michelle Robinson, 29, should receive a sentence that would likely result in her being immediately freed.
She has been held since her Aug. 13 arrest, and the agreement would give her credit for her time served.
That sentence "represents a significant downward departure" from the 33 to 41 months that probation officials have calculated would ordinarily be recommended for the defendant under federal sentencing guidelines, Wolf said.
The judge said that since neither prosecutors nor Robinson's lawyers have responded to an earlier court order to explain the sentence, "it is now uncertain whether the court is likely to accept the plea agreement." He gave prosecutors until noon Thursday to file papers justifying the proposed six-month sentence. Robinson's lawyer can also file an explanation.
If prosecutors cannot make the deadline, he said, he might postpone Robinson's sentencing hearing scheduled for Friday.
The criminal case against Robinson was the subject of a Globe story Tuesday in which several legal specialists criticized prosecutors' efforts to keep the businessman's name a secret.
Among the terms of the tentative plea agreement is an extraordinary provision: Robinson would be forbidden from disclosing the businessman's name for the three years that she is on supervised release.
James L. Sultan, a Boston defense lawyer, was quoted as calling the case "an example of the system working better for people who have resources," referring to the businessman, who was described by federal authorities as a prosperous married man in his 60s.
The businessman, who is identified in court papers only as LB, for local businessman, and BP, for business person, hired former US Attorney Donald K. Stern after he had paid the woman $280,000 to keep her mouth shut.
Stern arranged an Aug. 7 meeting with federal prosecutors and the FBI, who got the businessman to tape phone calls with the alleged prostitute during which she demanded another $300,000. She was arrested shortly afterward.
Other veteran criminal lawyers said that the prosecutors' efforts to keep the businessman's identity secret were justified because the government wants to encourage other people to come forward if they are victims of similar extortion schemes.
They also theorized that Robinson may have had a strong hand when negotiating a tentative six-month sentence. The businessman, they explained, might refuse to testify if she rejected a long sentence and forced the case to go to trial.