Rob $1K from a Bank, Get Four Years; Defraud It of $100K, Get One Year
Yes, as through this world I've wandered
The hammer comes down, sometimes.
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.
-- Woody Guthrie, "Pretty Boy Floyd"
Our advice: Do your bank robbing with the fountain pen. Or its modern equivalent.
One week, two sentences handed down in Southern District of Texas federal court for bank robbers.
One, Martin Antonio Montoya, 22, robbed a bank and got more than four years in prison for stealing $1,174. Oh, and 58 cents.
Another, Michelle Lauryn Osteen, defrauded the bank she worked at for almost $100,000. Her sentence: a year and a day.
Montoya -- who according to court documents had no priors -- didn't use a gun in his crime, but, the U.S. Attorney's Office says, he did give the teller a note "demanding she give him all her money or else he was going to hurt her as well as everyone in the bank."
Osteen just spent two years slyly manipulating accounts so that cash from trusts meant for incapacitated people made its way into her pocket.
Noted legal expert Brian Wice says he doesn't think the disparity in those sentences "is all that great -- bank robbery and embezzlement are two different crimes."
Federal sentencing guidelines limit the discretion a judge has in sentencing, and a lot of the discretion they do have will be influenced by a pre-sentencing report that outlines the character of the defendant.
Joel Androphy, another local big-time lawyer, says the fraud sentence may have been shortened in order to increase the likelihood the stolen money is paid back.
"If you put her away for five years, no one gets anything, but if it's one year she can get out and get a job and start paying back," he says.
In some cases, family members can chip in to pay restitution, and that can affect how long a sentence a prosecutor asks for, he says.
Still, our advice stands: Use the fountain pen.