- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A federal judge yesterday spared prominent D.C. developer Douglas Jemal from prison, saying that the 64-year-old showed “a high degree of generosity and integrity.”

U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina sentenced Jemal to five years of probation for a wire-fraud conviction, even though federal sentencing guidelines recommended at least 33 months of incarceration.

Judge Urbina said that more than 200 letters of support outlining the developer’s civic works convinced him that sending Jemal to prison was “inconceivable.”

“I sat there and read these letters and I read them with the view of finding internal inconsistencies,” the judge said. “There were no inconsistencies.”

Jemal, who apologized and verged on tears in a short statement to the judge, was convicted in October of creating a phony invoice to free up $430,000 from a mortgage account for use in another real estate deal.

“I care about individuals and people,” Jemal told the judge. “I care about buildings that have been abandoned and left alone. I care about people who have been abandoned and left alone.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Dubester argued that any punishment short of prison time would send a message to the community that “crime pays.”

“The sentence here will ring out,” he said.

Mr. Dubester urged the judge not to give too much consideration to Jemal’s charitable work and letters from employees and other supporters.

He said wealthy defendants should not get a break in sentencing because they donate to the community. He said most defendants do not have the money or resources to do so.

“The wealthy get their get-out-of-jail-free card,” Mr. Dubester said.

The prosecutor criticized a statement by Jemal after the trial in which he likened his wire-fraud conviction to “a splinter” compared with his acquittals on bribery and tax charges.

“It was disrespectful to the norms of society,” said Mr. Dubester, adding that wire fraud was a major part of the government’s case.

Defense attorney Reid Weingarten said the statement was taken out of context and argued that sending Jemal to prison could jeopardize the real estate company.

“Douglas Development is an entity worth preserving,” he said.

Seven supporters testified on behalf of Jemal yesterday. Most offered personal stories about how he helped them in tough times.

“Douglas is like the father I never had,” said Jerome Robinson, 48, who got his first job working in a warehouse at age 16 under Jemal.

Alexander Padro, executive director of the Shaw Main Streets Inc. and an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 2, called Jemal “a very humble man, a very down-to-earth man.”

Mr. Padro said Jemal donated backpacks to low-income schoolchildren, paid for flu shots and funded senior citizen programs.

Wayne Beall, who helps run a nonprofit animal rescue in Chester, Md., said Jemal supplied space with reduced rent and six months of free rent.

“He truly demonstrates true love for the animals,” Mr. Beall testified.

Jemal was convicted after a two-month trial during which his son, Norman, was acquitted, and his top leasing official, Blake Esherick, was convicted of tax evasion and wire fraud. All three were acquitted of bribery.

Esherick faced at least 33 months in prison under federal guidelines but was sentenced to eight months. Judge Urbina also cited Esherick’s civic work in giving him a more lenient sentence.

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