Thursday, February 9, 2006

A former Washington Teachers Union official who was convicted of stealing union dues is seeking leniency because she thinks she’s being stalked by a small person with a spear, federal court records show.

In “a new plea for leniency, [Gwendolyn M. Hemphill] now asserts that she suffers from a serious mental disease, including psychotic episodes in which she is confronted by ‘a small, dark-skinned person with a thin Roman nose, small lips and a spear, who is dressed like a native African,’ ” prosecutors say in a pre-sentencing memo filed this week in U.S. District Court.

Prosecutors have argued that Hemphill, a former office manager for the teachers union, should receive up to 24 years in prison for her role in embezzling nearly $5 million in union dues from 1995 to 2002.

Hemphill’s attorney, Nancy Luque, was not available for comment yesterday. In previous filings, Miss Luque has said prosecutors’ “attacks” on the credibility of the defense counsel’s psychiatric expert who examined Hemphill are “unseemly and without merit.”

Prosecutors argued this week in a pre-sentencing memo that Hemphill does not merit leniency, stressing that federal guidelines call for a sentence ranging from 19 to 24 years.

“The fact that she lacks a prior criminal history is undermined by the simple fact that she was a felon for many years before she got caught in this case,” Assistant U.S. Attorney James W. Cooper says in the memo, which was filed Monday.

“Every cent that was pilfered, and every cent that was laundered, occurred with her direct handwritten direction, participation or authorization,” Mr. Cooper says.

His memo refers to Hemphill’s mental state in a footnote, but he added that prosecutors will address the issue in a future memo.

The reference to psychotic episodes was gleaned from the findings of a defense expert, Dr. Neil Blumberg, who examined Hemphill, according to the memo.

In a legal pleading filed last month, prosecutors said the forensic psychiatrist diagnosed Hemphill with several conditions that existed at the time her offenses occurred.

However, they questioned the expert’s conclusions and the timing of the disclosure of Hemphill’s mental illness, court documents show.

“Despite repeated requests for discovery on the question of mental disease or defect, the defendant never offered up a hint of serious illness she now claims,” Mr. Cooper stated.

Miss Luque said prosecutors “without evidence” assume that Hemphill and Dr. Blumberg “are in cahoots, cooking up an array of mental illnesses.”

Hemphill’s sentencing, originally set for last month, has been postponed until May 22.

In September, Hemphill, 64, and former union treasurer James O. Baxter each were convicted of 23 counts that included embezzlement, money laundering, conspiracy and wire fraud.

Union dues were used 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.

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