- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A western Pennsylvania man was sentenced to 14 months in prison - far less than the four years federal prosecutors originally sought after he was convicted of enlisting crack addicts to shoplift tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of items he then resold at an Ohio flea market.

Thursday’s sentencing of Terry Sempf, 57, of New Brighton was complicated by the fact that the government couldn’t precisely calculate how much stolen merchandise he resold from 2007 to 2010. That’s important because federal sentencing guidelines - which recommend a penalty based on the seriousness of one’s crimes - are driven by dollar amounts in theft cases.

The government had argued Sempf re-sold at least $120,000 worth of DVDs, over-the-counter drugs, cosmetics and beauty aids. But U.S. District Judge David Cercone, even before the sentencing, issued a ruling that the amount was more likely about $80,000, dropping the guideline range to 27 to 33 months.

The estimates were based on projections stemming from the trial testimony of two people concerning how frequently they sold items to Sempf and how much they typically sold on each occasion - estimates which varied widely.

Defense attorney Paul Boas argued that uncertainty was so great that the judge should assume the amount was merely over $5,000 - the minimum threshold amount the jury had to believe was stolen and resold to convict Sempf in October.

But the judge wasn’t willing to do that although he was persuaded that, except for the flea market crimes, Sempf was an exemplary family man and friend who had already been punished somewhat by losing his postal service job and some rental properties he could no longer afford to maintain.

Cercone also rejected Boas’ request for probation because of the “despicable” nature of the crimes - and to send a message to those who know Sempf from the flea markets.

“You essentially encouraged these addicts to go out and fleece these companies” like Wal-Mart, Cercone said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shaun Sweeney argued that “flea market enthusiasts” comprise their own subculture and that, because they’re looking for deals, are aware that stolen goods are sometimes sold at such outlets. Sweeney also noted that Sempf took advantage of “desperate crack addicts out there doing whatever they could to get their fix.”

Sempf was charged after one of the addicts told police about him in 2010 after her 10th shoplifting arrest. Wal-Mart, one of the most frequent victims, donated $5,000 worth of merchandise that FBI agents used in a sting operation, having the woman sell them to Sempf for pennies on the dollar after telling him they were stolen.

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