White-collar criminals often avoid prison terms
Barbara Bateman padded her salary with $11,000 she took from Allegheny County employees.
Tammie Lazzara stole nearly $60,000 in fines from traffic tickets and citations from a North Hills judge's office.
Ira Johnson gambled away the $700,000 he stole from West Penn Allegheny Health System.
All three were prosecuted and convicted within the past three years. Each was ordered to pay back the money they stole. None saw the inside of a jail cell.
“White-collar criminals are rarely jailed,” said Jason D. Bartolacci, a Carlow University professor whose research focuses on fraud and nonviolent crimes. “Prosecutors really only look at white-collar crime as a property crime, so it gives the perception that there's not as much damage, when in fact the damages are often greater than a common street crime ... but the punishment is usually less.”
Legal experts said judges usually don't send white-collar criminals to jail because it's harder for them to repay money they stole from behind bars. By sentencing them to a period of probation, they can continue to work, pay off their obligation and become productive members of society, they said.
“If you put a guy in jail and he loses his job, you're compounding the problem,” said Bruce Antkowiak, criminal law professor at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.
“If we put everybody in jail who stole $25,000, we'd have more people in jail for that than we'd have for drugs,” said Jerome DeRiso, a Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney.
Legal observers and victims for years have decried the disparity of sentences for white-collar criminals versus others, Antkowiak said, although that has begun to change since a federal judge in 2009 sentenced Bernie Madoff to prison for 150 years for bilking nearly $65 billion from Wall Street investors.
“Just because the guy who did the stealing was wearing a $2,000 suit and contributed some of the money to some of the best charities in town doesn't make him any less a thief,” Antkowiak said.
Sentencing guidelines for charges such as theft and fraud rely on thresholds that depend on the amount of money stolen, but judges have some discretion to address particular circumstances, said Mark H. Bergstrom, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing.
“This can be done by imposing aggravated or mitigated sentences, and/or by imposing multiple counts concurrently or consecutively,” Bergstrom said.
Lazzara, 38, of West View, the former secretary for McCandless District Judge William Wagner, was sentenced to six years of probation for thefts that took place from 2006 to 2008.
Bateman, 42, of Oakdale, a former payroll clerk for the Allegheny County Retirement Fund, was sentenced to the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition probation program, which entitles her to have her criminal record erased once she pays restitution. She gave herself bonuses between January 2012 and January 2013, records show.
Johnson, 53, of Penn Hills and the former financial services adviser for West Penn Allegheny, was sentenced to one to two years in alternative housing and five years of probation. His thefts happened from 2007 to 2011.
None returned calls.
Bartolacci, a former Washington police officer and fraud investigator for PNC Bank, said several problems remain with the perception of white-collar crimes: They are not taken as seriously as other crimes because they're not violent, and most offenders are treated as first-timers, even if their thefts persisted for years.
“For some people, they've been doing it for years before they get caught,” he said. “Hopefully, the future will hold more appropriate jail sentences.”
Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto: Public has stake in Penguins
- Newsmaker: Pete DiNardo
- State lawmaker proposes increasing cost of state fishing licenses
- West Jefferson Hills schools close because of gun threat
- Embezzled $14.8M could cause woes for North Side firm Matthews International
- Belle Vernon woman visits ship like lander she helped build as WWII welder
- Pittsburgh schools chief Lane stepping down next summer
- Construction to close roads in O’Hara, Baldwin Borough
- Asking price for Penguins franchise said to be at a record $750M
- Pittsburgh Zoo staff caring for African lion suffering from seizure condition
- Saudi King Salman assured on Iran nuclear deal in U.S. trip