- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, which has described public-corruption offenses as crimes of “internal terrorism,” has adopted new federal guidelines to increase prison terms for those convicted of federal bribery charges — some by more than 50 percent.

It also voted to more than triple to 10 years — the maximum allowed under the law — the prison term for persons convicted of possessing destructive devices, such as shoulder-fired missiles, rockets and launchers.

“At a time when the security of our borders is paramount, the commission wanted to send the strong message to those officials responsible for the security of our borders that any selling of their office would result in serious penalties,” said Commission Vice Chairman Ruben Castillo.

Spokesman Michael Courlander said the amended guidelines provide harsher penalties based on whether a defendant is an elected public official, a public official or a nonpublic official, adding that the average sentence for a public official who takes a bribe will increase more than 50 percent, “with the prospect of a much greater increase.”

Mr. Courlander said the amendments, approved Friday, also provide enhancements to address any aggravating factors in public-corruption cases, including sentencing increases that apply to those who patrol the nation’s borders and issue immigration or other identification documents.

That enhancement, requested by the Department of Homeland Security, recognizes the need for absolute loyalty from government officials who perform tasks in a society afflicted by increased risk from terrorists, he said.

Mr. Courlander said possession of destructive devices, such as shoulder-fired missiles, rockets and launchers, was singled out for the maximum penalty in all cases because of their portability, range and accuracy. The U.S.-made Stinger missile can target aircraft traveling at altitudes of up to 26,000 feet, and the Russian-made SA-7 can target aircraft traveling at up to 16,000 feet, he said.

“We shudder at the thought of a commercial airliner being targeted by one of these devices,” said commissioner Michael E. Horowitz. “The U.S. Sentencing Commission is doing its part to ensure that anyone who even attempts to obtain these dangerous weapons will serve the maximum penalty authorized by Congress.”

Mr. Courlander said the commission also voted to allow the courts to depart above the guidelines for possession of destructive devices that create a risk to the public; increased by 50 percent the sentences for felons who use body armor in a crime of violence or drug trafficking; and increased the penalties for other crimes, including second-degree murder, attempted murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter involving reckless operation of a vehicle.

The amendments will be submitted to Congress by May 1 and will take effect Nov. 1, pending an 180-day period of congressional review.

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