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.