By Lawrence Buser Of The Memphis Commercial Appeal
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Former Memphis police officer Arthur Sease IV gambled and lost.
After refusing a plea deal and a lighter sentence, he demanded a trial and was convicted in February on so many counts of official corruption that it took the judge half an hour to read the jury's verdict.
His sentence announced Tuesday: life in prison, plus a mandatory consecutive 255 years for repeated use of a gun in crimes of violence.
"This is not an illusory sentence," said U.S. Dist. Court Judge Jon McCalla, noting there is no parole in the federal system. "This is a real one in which the numbers are real and the punishment is genuine. It is a long sentence and it is what is required by the law, the facts and the circumstances."
Sease, who also was an aspiring rap music producer, is the marquee defendant from a series of public-corruption investigations in the past six years that have netted indictments and guilty pleas from more than 48 law enforcement officers from six different agencies.
He was convicted on 44 counts stemming from shakedowns of drug dealers for money, drugs and merchandise to finance his music dreams.
Federal prosecutors Steve Parker and Jonathan Skrmetti said Sease was the head of a crime conspiracy who recruited other officers, organized "stangs" (robberies of drug dealers) and decided how proceeds would be distributed.
"At a time when Memphis needed every honest police officer it could get, Mr. Sease was corrupting them and turning them into criminals," said Skrmetti. "This was a major, major criminal enterprise and Mr. Sease was the ringleader."
Parker said Sease wasn't a police officer who went bad, but actually became a police officer to use his badge to rob drug dealers, knowing they were not likely to report the crimes.
"He joined the police academy to do this from the very first day," the prosecutor said. "He wanted to go party with the rappers. This defendant has shown nothing but sociopathic conduct from the get-go, and he has yet to accept any responsibility whatsoever. ...
"He ruined so many lives. He destroyed careers."
Sease, who has been in custody since his indictment three years ago, made a rambling statement in which he thanked his family for their support, denied being a sociopath, said Jesus too was crucified and quoted Biblical passages about resurrection, truth and sin.
"I'm not a bad person," said Sease, whose monologue was tempered several times by his court-appointed attorney, Michael Stengel. "I've never been in trouble in my life."
He grew up in Orange Mound, joined the Navy and became a Memphis police officer in 2001.
According to evidence and testimony in his nine-day trial, Sease conspired with drug dealers to arrange drug buys, then robbed those dealers as they arrived or left the designated location.
Prosecutors termed it "stealing and dealing."
Some 16 such robberies were committed between 2003 and 2006 before one suspected dealer complained to police that Sease had robbed him of $32,000 in cash.
Sease was fired in 2005 after state robbery charges were filed, but prosecutors said he continued to arrange shakedowns by enlisting the help of officers still on the force.
Stengel argued that other indicted police officers who testified should not be believed because their desire for lighter sentences might cause them to shade the truth.
Sease's conviction included conspiracy charges involving drugs, extortion, civil rights violations, kidnapping, money laundering and illegal use of firearms.
Officials said officers who were given lighter sentences for their cooperation in the case were rightly rewarded because police corruption cases are nearly impossible to solve without the help of someone involved in the crimes.
"I don't view it as a bad day," said Police Director Larry Godwin, noting that the case was made by his department, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office. "I view it as another criminal being removed from the street."
-- Lawrence Buser: 901-529-2385
Five codefendants in the Arthur Sease IV police- corruption case fared better by pleading guilty and cooperating with investigators.
Former reserve officer Andrew Hunt: 19 years in prison, later reduced to 10 years after testifying against Sease
Former officer Antoine Owens: 5 years, 3 months
Former officer Alexander Johnson: 2 years, 6 months
Civilian Laterrica Woods: 3 years
Former officer Harold McCall: 3 years probation
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