- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2006

Federal prosecutors plan to seek a 20-year prison term for former Washington Teachers Union official Gwendolyn Hemphill when she is sentenced next week, dismissing arguments for leniency based on mental illness.

“Defendant Hemphill’s only real mental condition is anxiety that her gig is finally up,” prosecutors said in a sentencing memo filed this week.

Hemphill, 64, is scheduled to be sentenced for her role in the union’s multimillion-dollar embezzlement scandal that has resulted in convictions of several former union leaders.

Hemphill’s attorney, Nancy Luque, said this week in a defense memo that a 20-year term would be “a virtual death sentence for this grandmother.”

Seeking home confinement, Miss Luque cited more than a dozen letters to the federal judge who will decide Hemphill’s fate, including a request for mercy from the chief executive of the Greater Washington Urban League, Maudine R. Cooper.

The defense pleading also notes that “serious mental disorders” should be taken into consideration because “it could be argued that were it not for Mrs. Hemphill’s significantly reduced mental capacity she would not have committed any of these offenses; she would have refused to participate in the crimes.”

The defense memo does not specify the nature of Hemphill’s mental illness, and Miss Luque recently asked Judge Richard J. Leon to close hearings and seal records in connection with the issue of Hemphill’s mental health.

Miss Luque’s request cited an article in The Washington Times earlier this year that quoted court pleadings by prosecutors and Miss Luque concerning the issue of whether Hemphill has suffered from mental illness.

Miss Luque said the article upset Hemphill and caused her to be hospitalized.

On May 3, Judge Leon signed a protective order for attorneys to refrain from quoting or paraphrasing certain statements made by Hemphill to mental health experts.

Miss Luque accused prosecutors Wednesday of violating that court order, but prosecutors said in response they did not violate the order because it only applied to 12 lines of text in the notes of a mental health expert examining Hemphill. They accused Hemphill of choosing “the pretense of illness to avoid responsibility for her crimes.”

In September, Hemphill and former union Treasurer James O. Baxter each were convicted of 23 counts that included embezzlement, money laundering, conspiracy and wire fraud.

Baxter is expected to be sentenced in June.

Union dues were misused to pay for designer clothing and fur coats, silverware and a champagne cooler, antiques and art objects, wigs, plasma televisions, dental implants, $77,181 worth of tickets to basketball games, and Louis Vuitton and Chanel handbags, among other items.

Former union President Barbara A. Bullock pleaded guilty and is serving a nine-year prison sentence.

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