U.S. Attorneys and the Contrived Prosecution of Victoria Sprouse

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Although much of my writing on prosecutorial abuse centers deals with how state prosecutors time and again deliberately pursue false charges in so-called sex crimes, I actually began this part of my writing career as a critic of federal criminal law and how federal prosecutors enthusiastically find ways to turn legal actions into “crimes” that are accompanied with harsh prison sentences.

There is one connection, as federal law – specifically the various Mondale Acts (or CAPTA) and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) – has destroyed due process and emphasized the mere accusation without corroborating evidence being the standard for conviction and made it easy for state prosecutors to gain wrongful convictions of innocent people. Ever since the Progressive Era of a century ago, Progressives have claimed that federal intervention into state law is a solution, not a problem, and even now many people refuse to believe that federal criminal law has become an instrument of tyranny.

Yet, time and again I have found myself astounded at the ease by which federal prosecutors are able to target anyone they like and pursue criminal charges accompanied with the loaded term “fraud” to make these actions sound much worse than they really are. Teaming with an attorney friend of mine, Candice E. Jackson, the two of us wrote papers and articles demonstrating how U.S. attorneys recklessly cut a swath of human and economic destruction, and how the supposed government watchdogs, such as the mainstream media, have enthusiastically endorsed this tyranny. Even though dedicated attorneys such as Harvey Silverglate have written enlightening books such as Three Felonies a Day that clearly outline the abuses, the media tends to turn a deaf ear.

From Rudy Giuliani’s relentless pursuit of Michael Milken more than 20 years ago to the government’s imprisoning of Martha Stewart to its refusal to help free wrongfully-convicted federal prisoners in North Carolina, incarcerated because the lawyers of the U.S. Department of Justice did not know the law and federal judges looked the other way, government lawyers have engaged in reckless and brutal acts against innocent people. If I could boil all of my writings about federal prosecutorial abuse into a case against one person, that individual would be Victoria Sprouse.

I met Vickie Sprouse three years ago, just after she was convicted by a federal jury in Charlotte, North Carolina, for “mortgage fraud.” Her conviction was a huge story in North Carolina’s self-described Queen City. Television news reporters breathlessly declared that she had “made millions” from her fraud, and that her actions had helped to create the housing meltdown that inundated Charlotte. The Charlotte Observer, a newspaper with “proper liberal credentials” that prides itself on having a heart for justice, wrote an account that – save its lead paragraph in which the reporter noted that Sprouse burst into tears – that was little more than a rehash of the press release given by the U.S. DOJ on its website.

If one only watched the news and read the Observer, Sprouse’s guilt would be an open-and-shut thing. I followed her trial through the Observer’s website and knew there was no chance for her acquittal. I spoke to one of North Carolina’s best-known attorneys before the trial and he told me, “She is going to get screwed.” And she did.

Yet, the government’s case against Vickie Sprouse was a true house of cards, constructed upon a façade that was supported by judicial rulings that ensured that Sprouse would not have an adequate defense. The irony is that it would not have been difficult for a good attorney to have blasted apart the federal charges and there was enough exculpatory evidence available to have shot the case full of holes. However, federal prosecutor Matt Martens was able to rig both the prosecution and the defense by seizing Sprouse’s assets and forcing her to drop her experienced attorney and having to depend upon public defenders that had no intention of mounting a real defense.

I go through the details of the original conviction in this post I wrote three years ago for Lew Rockwell’s page. (I am grateful that Lew provided a forum by which I could write on such issues even though my harsh words have enraged state and federal prosecutors.) When the original article was published, Martens flew into a rage, claiming first that I was a fictitious character and that Sprouse had written the piece herself, and later saying that Sprouse had dictated every word to me. Neither statement was true and the prosecutor’s words demonstrated to me that Martens (like many other U.S. attorneys) was both an egomaniac and a fundamentally-dishonest character.

There is a postscript to the original conviction which further demonstrates the lengths of brutality that the government will go in order to target, convict, and incarcerate someone. While Sprouse was convicted for so-called mortgage fraud, the prosecution relied upon the malleable federal statute of Honest Services Fraud to make its case. When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned much of that law, the legal basis for Sprouse’s conviction collapsed. (I argue in my LRC post that the government did not even prove Sprouse had committed any kind of fraud.)

Government lawyers were demanding Sprouse be incarcerated for 42 years, and she was held under house arrest pending her appeal. When a federal judge overturned her conviction, U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins (the same Anne Tompkins who declared her office could not be “outcome-driven” when confronted with the fact it had illegally-charged dozens of people with statutory crimes that did not exist) and her underlings fashioned bankruptcy fraud charges in retaliation.

I have written a short post on the current set of charges, but that post was incomplete. The feds have used tricks like claiming Sprouse reported fraudulent numbers for rental properties when, in fact, they used gross revenue while Sprouse employed net income. The feds also claimed that a defense fund set up by Sprouse’s sister, a fund of which Sprouse had no personal access and proceeds went directly to pay attorneys, constituted an illegal secret “slush fund.”

One of the ironies in this sorry case has been the fact that Sprouse herself hardly fits the demonized profile that the feds have created and the media have dutifully regurtigated. She is a friendly, kind woman whose mannerisms and language are a throwback to the formal culture that existed in the South many years ago. In all my conversations with her, I never have heard her curse or even use inflammatory language. She seems genuinely confused as to why the feds would pursue her in a Javert-like manner, and I and others who know her all agree.

The sad thing about the personal destruction of Victoria Sprouse is not just in the lost income and opportunities that she and her family have experienced. No, it also has been the very ease by which federal authorities can use the alleged-watchdog media to create caricatures of people that do not fit their real character. Her persecution also is a reminder that any one of us can be targeted in the same manner, and no matter how much proof we produce to demonstrate that federal officials are wrong, the American news media will follow lock-step behind the bureaucrats, even when it is obvious the bureaucrats are not telling the truth.

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15 Responses to “U.S. Attorneys and the Contrived Prosecution of Victoria Sprouse”

  1. #1 |  Caleb | 

    ed note: There are three repeat paragraphs in the middle.

    Other than that, good post.

  2. #2 |  CPBrown | 

    As Lavrentiy Beria said, show me the man {woman} and I’ll show you the crime.

  3. #3 |  FSK | 

    That’s the same Anne Tompkins who called Bernard Nothaus a “terrorist”.

    http://www.fbi.gov/charlotte/press-releases/2011/defendant-convicted-of-minting-his-own-currency

  4. #4 |  jb | 

    From the link provided by FSK:

    “Attempts to undermine the legitimate currency of this country are simply a unique form of domestic terrorism,” U.S. Attorney Tompkins said in announcing the verdict. “While these forms of anti-government activities do not involve violence, they are every bit as insidious and represent a clear and present danger to the economic stability of this country,” she added. “We are determined to meet these threats through infiltration, disruption, and dismantling of organizations which seek to challenge the legitimacy of our democratic form of government.”

    This, the consequence of minting Liberty coins. Her statement likely rings for 99% of the public. Scary.

  5. #5 |  el coronado | 

    You’re a little late to the party, pal. “no matter how much proof [is] produce[d] to demonstrate federal officials are wrong, the US media will follow lockstep behind the bureaucrats, even when it’s obvious the bureaucrats are [lying through their scummy teeth].”

    I’d say that lesson was driven home very emphatically by 2 separate outrages committed by the federal bureaucracy in 1992 & 1993.

  6. #6 |  johnl | 

    This case is an example of what I remember as the original motivation of the civil forfeiture, eliminating the right to an attorney.

  7. #7 |  C.E. | 

    I don’t know much about the Violence Against Women Act, but I don’t see how it had anything to do with Ms. Sprouse’s predicament. In fact, I don’t see how progressive legislation or federal intervention in state affairs have anything to do with Ms. Sprouse’s predicament. She appears to be the victim of a prosecutor who has little regard for truth or even what most people consider justice, but fraud (whether or not she is guilty of it) has been a part of criminal law since long before the progressive era of American politics. And federal prosecutors are no less prone than state ones to grab hold of a defendant and hound her into oblivion, regardless of her innocence, and they are just as willing to use dirty tactics to do it. This is not a product of “progressive” legislation, whatever may be the faults of such policies. It is a product of human nature and the propensity for “crusaders” who believe themselves to be infallible becoming prosecutors. It is a product of the general willingness of politicians, judges, the media, and the public to accept as true any accusation made by the police or prosecutors. This attitude cuts across much of the political spectrum. One cannot seriously suggest that only “progressives” are willing to parrot the claims of police and prosecutors as unalterable truth.

    This is not a defense of VAWA or progressivism. I’m simply pointing out that the persecution of Ms. Sprouse does not appear to have resulted from either one of them. I doubt even that the expanded power of the federal government played a part, since I would bet that it’s been a crime to defraud the federal government since long before the Civil War, though I’m not enough of a legal historian to state that unequivocally.

  8. #8 |  divadab | 

    You cite “Rudy Giuliani’s relentless pursuit of Michael Milken more than 20 years ago to the government’s imprisoning of Martha Stewart” as the prosecution of the innocent.

    I don’t buy it. Martha Stewart’s case was a textbook example of insider trading – and then she lied under oath to an investigator. These are crimes. And – unnecessary crimes – she is as rich as Croesus but still was so greedy that she cheated so as not to lose money, and then lied about it. She got what she deserved.

    And so did Michael Milken – a genius who invented junk bonds but cheated to make a couple extra hundred million. He got what he deserved also.

    I don’t know why you wingers feel it necessary to carry water for these people. Aren’t there more deserving victims of “injustice” for you to champion than a couple of billionaire cheaters and liars?

  9. #9 |  Radley Balko | 

    Martha Stewart’s case was a textbook example of insider trading ….

    If it was a ‘textbook” case, why did a federal judge throw out the insider trading charges, finding that no reasonable juror could possibly have found her guilty of them?

    The charge was that she used inside knowledge to avoid losses of $45,000. Do you know what percentage of her net worth that is? Does it strike you as an amount she’d commit a felony over?

    ….and then she lied under oath to an investigator.

    She was convicted of lying under oath to during an investigation into crimes for which there wasn’t enough evidence to try her, much less convict her.

    I happen to think that’s bullshit. I’m not even sure it should be a crime to lie to investigators. After all, they’re allowed to lie to you.

    I don’t know why you wingers feel it necessary to carry water for these people.

    I can’t speak for my fellow “wingers,” but I don’t think we should ignore injustice done to wealthy people simply because they happen to be wealthy. It was a high-profile case. There’s also merit to pointing out government abuses in high-profile cases.

    Aren’t there more deserving victims of “injustice” for you to champion than a couple of billionaire cheaters and liars?

    Of course. Because this site never looks at injustices perpetrated on poor people. Never. Well, maybe poor white people. Every once in a while. But definitely not poor black people. Never.

    I think a better question would be to ask you to explain why you’re fine with trampling on civil liberties and criminal protections when you don’t like the class, status, or income level of the accused.

  10. #10 |  el coronado | 

    Aw, c’mon now, let’s not be so hard on ol’ divadab.

    While the post itself was pure class warfare hate-the-rich bullshit, it *DOES* provide an excellent answer to the eternal question of “Why is it that Libertarians seem to gravitate more to the right than the left?”

    Answer: because according to the ideas espoused in divadab’s comment, leftists, (and div. can’t be one because he adds the highly intellectual & obligatory ‘wingers!’ whine), leftists aren’t interested even a little in Truth, Justice, Liberty and all that. And Republicans _sometimes_ are, despite themselves.

  11. #11 |  el coronado | 

    Dammit. “comment”, not “post” in line 2.

  12. #12 |  FWB | 

    I want to ask you to think. First, there is a standard of knowledge that states, the police power was left to the states. Anyone who has read anything on the Constitution knows this as fact.

    The Constitution grants some police power to the feds. Those grants are found in Article I section 8 and Article 3 section3. The federal police powers include counterfeiting the current coin and securities of the US, piracies and felonies ON THE HIGH SEAS, offenses against the Law of Nations, securing Copyrights and inventions, and treason.

    If the Constitution HAS TO GRANT powers to the feds to punish these specific acts, where in the HELL does the fed get the LAWFUL, CONSTITUTIONAL power to punish ANY OTHE

  13. #13 |  FWB | 

    OTHER ACT.

    Because the power to punish acts, i.e. police power MUST BE granted in all cases, the fed DOES NOT HAVE AUTHORITY to punish ANY other acts than those specifically enumerated in the Constitution.

    All the 19th century Constitutional discussions state the the police power was reserved to the States. 995 OF ALL FEDERAL PUNISHMENT LAWS ARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

    If you don’t understand this, you do not understand our legitimate government or the system established by the Constitution.

  14. #14 |  John Boanerges Redman | 

    Martha Stuart was NOT under oath at any time when she SPOKE to “investigators”. Please get that important part straight. That is why no person should EVER answer a single question even with ones “own” attorney present and advising. Giving ones ‘name’ constitutes heresay. “When born”, the same. Once you fail on simple matters like this, they have you. “Go away, I have nothing to say to you. I have 1st A protection for keeping silent. From this point on, by remaining where you are, you are committing trespass and I am entitled to all legal remedies to counter that violation of my person and rights. This constitutes a 10 second warning before I commence defending myself from your crimes. Begone you criminal scum.”

  15. #15 |  John Boanerges Redman | 

    BTW, FWB, read some Lysander Spooner before you (again) spout anything about “legitimate government or the system established by the Constitution”, OK?

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