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The Case: The Jailed Scam Artist

Does a convicted fraudster deserve a new sentence because of a single misstatement?

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— Mark Zingarelli

The Verdict

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit noted that the United States had provided the Costa Rican authorities with assurances that the suspects, including Pileggi, would not receive the death penalty or a sentence that requires spending the rest of natural life in prison. Attorneys for the Justice Department, the court said, then inadvertently misstated the agreement to the district court by saying that “the executive branch will not seek a sentence in excess of 50 years or death.” The error, the court went on, was never corrected.

The only time 50 years, specifically, was mentioned was during the Justice Department attorney’s explanation of the agreement between the two countries. This led the district court to rely on clearly erroneous facts and impose a sentence that would extend beyond Pileggi’s life expectancy.

Because of the U.S. government’s misrepresentation, the court ruled, “we have zero confidence that had the district court known the true content of the assurances provided to Costa Rica, it would have sentenced Pileggi to 600 months in prison.”

While the court noted that it had no doubt of Pileggi’s guilt, and was aware of the seriousness of his crimes, the district court’s sentencing error was “a fundamental affront to the fairness and integrity of judicial proceedings.” The court ordered a new sentencing hearing for Pileggi.

Today, Giuseppe Pileggi is in federal prison awaiting his new hearing.

Robin Gerber is a lawyer and the author of Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her.

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