Tuesday, May 17, 2011

TOP STORY >> Sentence delayed by judge

Special to the Leader

A federal judge on Tuesday delayed the sentencing of George Wylie Thompson, 65, of Cabot until he could review Thompson’s health and military records. A new sentencing date was set for 1:30 p.m. July 15.

Thompson was convicted Dec. 17 in U.S. District Court in Little Rock of eight counts of federal firearms charges, gambling charges and marriage fraud. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the total maximum penalty for those convictions normally would be 45 years in prison and fines of up to $1.5 million. However, as a three-time convicted felon, he faces life in prison.

U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson also said he wants to know whether Thompson has any real estate that could be seized by the government and be applied toward any fines that are levied. Thompson’s attorneys,

Jake Files and Blake Hendrix, both of Little Rock, told Wilson that Thompson’s real estate holdings were awarded to his now ex-wife following divorce proceedings.

A few hours after Wilson delayed Thompson’s sentencing, Wilson sentenced co-defendant Sam Baggett, a former North Little Rock alderman, to 23 months in prison and and three years supervised release, a form of parole. Baggett will remain free until June 27, when he must report to federal authorities for prison. At trial, he contended he didn’t know Thompson was a convicted felon.

Baggett, 56, served on the North Little Rock City Council and was a federally licensed firearms dealer when he was charged with helping Thompson acquire firearms. Baggett was convicted on three counts of weapons violations on Dec. 17 and resigned from the city council the next day.

When Wilson asked about Thompson’s health, Hendrix conferred with his client briefly, then told the judge that Thompson has prostate cancer and has had trouble receiving treatment.

Wilson asked for detailed medical records.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Hoey agreed that Thompson has prostate cancer because he at one time was receiving treatment at a Veterans Administration hospital but protested that “He didn’t seem concerned about his cancer when he fled the country” to escape arrest following his 2008 indictment. Thompson eventually was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand.

Wilson, known for his homespun humor on the bench, said Thompson likely was more concerned for his freedom than for his health when he fled.

Wilson also said he wants to look into Thompson’s claims that he flew on 66 combat missions as a helicopter gunner during the Vietnam War. Judges are allowed to consider the health and military service as they decide sentencing.

“I’m not contending Mr. Thompson is going to win the chamber of commerce’s citizen-of-the-year award in light of his convictions, but if this (Thompson’s military record) is true, I’m going to give him some consideration,” Wilson said.

Prosecutors mildly disagreed with the judge, with Hoey saying Thompson has been a “con artist” for decades since his military service.

“I’m not going to say how much (consideration), but I will give some regardless of how far he has strayed since,” Wilson said.

Thompson was convicted in 1989 and 2003 on drug charges and served time for those convictions.

In March, Thompson was sentenced to 10 years and one month in prison for his October 2008 conviction on federal cocaine-trafficking charges. A co-defendant, Richard Deleo, of Somerville, Mass., was sentenced to 12 years. Both still face racketeering charges in Massachusetts.

Authorities were investigating Thompson and Deleo when a court-authorized telephone wiretap permitted them to key on Baggett and his relationship with Thompson. That extended investigation also brought an indictment of Cary Gaines, a North Little Rock alderman at the time and former executive director of the Arkansas Sheriffs Association.

Gaines pleaded guilty and testified against Baggett and Thompson in their December trial. Gaines was sentenced to four months in prison last month and ordered to report to prison June 6.