Monday, March 1, 2010

Pastor Gaston Smith gets probation for stealing $10,000...

After all the drama and hype by the Assistant State Attorney Scruggs and the State Attorney's Office, the judge in the Pastor Gaston Smith theft case handed down a lengthy probation sentence rather than the one to five years of prison time the prosecutors were seeking.  For those of you who don't remember, this is the case where a Pastor from a Liberty City church was convicted of stealing ten thousand dollars from a county grant.  Based on what we've read in the media surrounding this case, there seemed to be some prosecutorial monkey business surrounding this case.

In our opinion, the first prosecutorial misstep began with how the arrest went down, we covered it here.  Rather than allow the Pastor who is a prominent member of his community who has no previous criminal record and whose defense attorneys were in constant contact and negotiations with the prosecutors to surrender, the prosecution decided to arrest him.  This hit a nerve with the Judge, she went on to state the following:
"...the way that the arrests took place in the case...give the defense a reason, pause and again, leave them with this taste in their mouth and this feeling of impropriety.  There were negotiations between the state attorney, defense counsel and prosecuting attorneys...the client is arrested on the streets, when its common knowledge in white collar cases that these clients surrender...then he has to sit in the police car for a few hours...I think that could have been done in a more elegant fashion as well."
In other words, the prosecutors decided to show the Pastor and his defense team who had the bigger dick.  Good for you, hardly the behavior you would expect from a seasoned veteran prosecutor.

The next misstep came when the police and the prosecutors secretly recorded interviews they conducted with the Pastor before he was indicted (Francisco Alvarado of the Miami New Times covers it here), although they were fully aware of the recordings, they neglected to notify the Pastor or his attorneys of their existence, another major lapse in the prosecutors judgment.  The judge wasn't too happy about this either...
"The way you handled this disclosure was very unprofessional...  As soon as you found this out, not only did you need to call them, you needed to draft a letter explaining exactly what happened and the purpose of the tape and the meaning of it, to avoid an appearance of impropriety... That didn't happen."
There's also the issue of the Prosecutor not properly complying with a public records request by Miami New Times staff, the judge scolded the prosecutor again...
"I couldn't testified in court that you intentionally tried to get around complying with a lawful public records request because you don't like the practice. You can't do that."
Wow!  We're really warming up to Judge Butchko.  Regardless though, now that the Pastors been sentenced, what happens to all the prosecutorial misconduct that occurred during the case?  Does it all get swept under the rug?  Does the conviction negate all the wrong doing?  Kinda like, the ends justify the means?  I hope not.  At the end of the day though, at least in our opinion, the sentence handed down was a little harsh for a first time offender, five years probation and five more years of monitoring?  After all, he didn't actually steal the money, he was given it through a grant, if he's guilty of anything it's misspending the money.  Does that seem right?  Funny, we know someone in Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case that was convicted of stealing nearly the same amount of money as Pastor Smith, we'll take a look at what kind of punishment he was given in comparison and see if it seems "fair".

To our readers, be careful out on the roads and keep a keen eye out for runaway Toyotas!  The Straw Buyer almost got run off the road the other day by ANOTHER RUNAWAY TOYOTA!  We're processing the videos and will be posting them later this week...

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