- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A federal judge yesterday reduced the prison sentence of former Washington Teachers Union chief Barbara A. Bullock by more than two years, in exchange for her help in convicting former colleagues in a massive embezzlement scam.

Bullock, 68, dressed in a prisoner’s jumpsuit and walking with a cane, pleaded for leniency. She told U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon, “I am sorry for what I did, and I can’t do any more than that.”

Bullock previously had been sentenced to nine years in prison after pleading guilty in 2003 to taking part in a scam that embezzled more than $5 million in teachers’ dues. Money that was taken in the scam was spent on personal items such as $500,000 on custom-made clothing and $100,000 on Washington Redskins and Washington Wizards season tickets.

The reduction means Bullock is likely to be released in about three years.

Prosecutors sought to reduce Bullock’s original sentence because they said Bullock provided investigators with good leads. They said her testimony also helped convict former union treasurer James O. Baxter II and office manager Gwendolyn M. Hemphill.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Alexis said that without Bullock’s help, investigators wouldn’t have known about the “vast number” of furs purchased with union dues. The furs, he said, “basically became a currency in the conspiracy.”

“Her testimony was useful, and we believe it was powerful,” he said.

Bullock’s attorney had sought to cut her overall sentence from nine to five years. Michelle Peterson said Bullock didn’t know the extent of the fraud being committed by Baxter, Hemphill and others.

She also said Bullock has turned her life around, helping other inmates at the federal prison in Alderson, W.Va.

“As a former teacher, I do know how to teach children to read,” Bullock told Judge Leon.

Bullock also mentioned that the prisoners she helps affectionately call her or know her as “grandma.”

The criminal case was unusual because the person at the top of the conspiracy, Bullock, cooperated early and helped convict officials under her authority. Judge Leon said that’s rare in such cases.

Bullock also will be out of prison sooner than the other major targets in the investigation.

Hemphill was sentenced to 11 years and Baxter to 10 years after they were convicted of embezzlement, conspiracy and other felony charges. Hemphill had sought leniency before her sentencing last year, claiming that Bullock was the mastermind of the conspiracy.

Attorneys for Hemphill also said the former office manager suffered from a mental disease, saying at one time she had psychotic episodes in which she thought she was being stalked by a small person with a spear.

Calling Bullock “a person who has turned a corner,” the judge said he would have sentenced the former union president to about 14 years in prison if she did not cooperate.

“The smartest decision she ever made was getting on the right path,” he said of Bullock’s decision to work with prosecutors.

However, Judge Leon rejected the defense request to cut Bullock’s sentence by an additional two years, saying she reaped more of the rewards in the embezzlement scam compared with any other defendant.

Judge Leon also rejected a request by prosecutors to sentence Bullock to a halfway house after her release. He said doing so would waste taxpayer money and that halfway-house spots tend to go to drug convicts.

Instead, the judge sentenced Bullock to six months of home detention after her release. Bullock also must complete 1,000 hours of community service and pay more than $4 million in restitution to the union.

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