- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

A top company executive for prominent D.C. developer Douglas Jemal was sentenced to eight months in prison yesterday for tax evasion and wire fraud.

Blake Esherick, leasing official for Douglas Development Corp., faced at least 33 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. But U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo M. Urbina said Esherick’s volunteer and civic work in the community helped persuade him to hand down a more lenient sentence.

“That has to count for something, and it does,” Judge Urbina said of the civic work.

Esherick’s sentencing came a month before Judge Urbina is scheduled to decide whether Jemal also should go to prison.

Both men were convicted last year of falsifying financial documents to defraud lender Morgan Stanley of $430,000.

Prosecutors want Jemal to go to prison for as many as five years, but with Esherick getting eight months it’s not clear whether the developer will get any prison time. Esherick faced tax fraud and wire fraud convictions, while Jemal faces the wire-fraud conviction.

Esherick called the federal investigation “a nightmare” for his family in a short address to Judge Urbina.

“When I did it I knew it was wrong, I did it anyway,” he said of filing false tax returns.

“I know whatever punishment you have for me will be fair and just and I’ll serve it with dignity,” he told the judge.

“I’m not motivated by greed,” he said.

Defense attorney Paul Kemp had sought a sentence of probation and community service, calling Esherick “a straight talker and a straight dealer.”

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark H. Dubester called for “meaningful incarceration.”

“What was he thinking when he put his name on those documents in order to steal from the taxpayers of the United States?” Mr. Dubester said of the tax conviction.

“You steal, you go to jail.”

Mr. Dubester also told Judge Urbina not to place too much stock in testimony about Esherick’s civic work, including coaching youth sports and organizing a charity event for low-income children at Christmas.

“That is not a get-out-of-jail-free card,” he said.

Among those who testified on Esherick’s behalf yesterday before sentencing was Carol Mitten, former director of the District’s Office of Property Management.

A witness for the prosecution during trial, she called Esherick “very straightforward” in lease negotiations with the District.

Judge Urbina told Esherick he was “well-educated, intelligent and you have many of the benefits that most people I see can only dream of.”

However, he said a sentence of 33 months was “excessive.”

In addition to eight months in prison, Esherick also was sentenced to one year of electronic monitoring after his release and 400 hours of community service.

Jemal and Esherick were acquitted of bribery charges in which prosecutors charged they gave cash and gifts to former D.C. property management Deputy Director Michael Lorusso for favorable leasing deals.

Mr. Kemp said Esherick was prepared to plead guilty to tax charges, but that he had to go to trial because he was “lumped” into the government’s case against Jemal involving the acquitted bribery charges.

But Mr. Dubester said the tax fraud was no fluke and that Esherick repeatedly filed phony returns. He also said the wire fraud charge showed how Esherick was motivated by a desire to “get money for his boss.”

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