SW Legal studies in Business

Significant Deviation from Sentencing Guidelines Must Be Justified by Court

Appeals court vacated a light sentence imposed on a defendant who pleaded guilty to defrauding the government. Since the trial court ignored expert testimony about the loss suffered, and concluded there was no loss, this allowed a light sentence to be imposed. Such a sentence must be justified by the trial court.

Topic Criminal Law
Key Words

Fraud; Government Contracts; Sentencing Guidelines

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Wilkinson was indicted for conspiracy to defraud the government, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to steal trade secrets. Under a plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to the charges. The charges arose from Wilkinson's role in a company that provided aviation fuel to the military at various bases. Wilkinson paid an employee of a competitor to provide information about bids that company was making on deals in which the two companies were competitors so the bids could be rigged. Due to his cooperation, the prosecutors reduced the level of sentencing that was recommended to a lower level than may have been imposed in case of convictions in which there was no cooperation. The judge sentenced Wilkinson to three year's probation and 800 hours of community service. The government appealed that the sentence was too light in violation of the Sentencing Guidelines.


Vacated and remanded. The government had recommended that Wilkinson pay restitution to a competitor injured by the bid rigging and to the government for the high prices paid by the fraudulently obtained contracts. The district court must explain why no restitution should be paid given the Sentencing Guidelines and the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act. The government provided evidence of the losses suffered. Expert testimony estimated the government losses at $600,000. The judge improperly rejected the evidence without comment as to why it was not accepted. Since the evidence of damage was rejected, that allowed the judge to ignore the recommendation of imprisonment. A judge may deviate from the Sentencing Guidelines, but must provide adequate justification for the sentence imposed. Because of a major procedural error, the sentence is vacated and remanded to the district court for reconsideration.


U.S. v. Wilkinson, ---F.3d--- (2010 WL 9946, 4th Cir., 2010)

Back to Criminal Law Listings

©1997-2010  South-Western Legal Studies in Business, A Division of Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved.