Yesterday a court in America sentenced Texan financier Allen Stanford to 110 years in prison for running, over two decades, a Ponzi fraud that netted him more than US$7 billion. His lawyers had suggested that a suitable sentence might be 44 months. Something of a gap in perception there, I think. Some of you may know that in my spare time I am a magistrate. (Sometimes called “hobby judges”, we sit in benches of three in court and hear about 95% of criminal cases in England and Wales – well, not just me, of course – there’s thousands of us.) Anyway, when it comes to sentencing, our guidelines are quite clear: you must give “credit” (a reduction of up to a third) on someone’s sentence if they plead guilty – the earlier they plead, the more credit they get. And you also give a bit more off if they show remorse. The point is that the act of showing contrition, and the shame it brings you, should act as a reminder to you not to stray again from the path of righteousness. It also gives your victim a small measure of comfort. Perhaps Mr Stanford’s lawyers did not explain this concept to their client.
Throughout his trial, Mr Stanford made every effort to blame everyone else in his organisation. He maintained his innocence all the way through, with a jury eventually convicting him in March this year. And at his sentencing yesterday, he read out a 40-minute statement to the court, including the declaration: “I did not run a Ponzi scheme. I didn’t defraud anybody.” His 30,000 victims might not agree with that assessment: 92% of the money he stole is still missing, with millions tied up in legal wrangling, and their chances of getting back much at all look very slim indeed. You knew I’d end with this: it’s just not cricket.