FEDERAL COURT Budd gets 8 years in prison
The gallery was filled with supporters, including two priests.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- Ex-Mahoning County Sheriff's Department Maj. Michael Budd awoke this morning in a cell, knowing his life for the next eight years will be spent as a federal prison inmate.
U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells remanded Budd to the custody of U.S. marshals at 4:30 p.m. Friday, three hours after his sentencing hearing began. In reaction, Budd calmly placed his wallet on the defense table, removed his tie and turned to the marshal who held a pair of handcuffs.
Cries and encouraging words that his conviction would be appealed erupted from the gallery packed with family and friends. Budd showed no emotion as marshals escorted him out through a side door.
The 44-year-old Boardman man, convicted of violating the civil rights of three jail inmates and obstructing justice, spent the night in a Cleveland-area county jail. He will remain in jail until the federal Bureau of Prisons designates a prison for him to serve his 97-month sentence. Placement usually takes 30 to 45 days.
Budd was also fined $12,500. After prison he must serve three years' supervised release.
"Obviously, there's nothing I can say to change the events that transpired here," Budd told the judge before she sentenced him. "I have a great amount of respect for the Constitution. I am dismayed at the events. I know what I did and know what I didn't do."
Choking back tears, Budd said he couldn't believe what was happening to him. He said he knows two things in life are true: "You're gonna die and your mother loves you."
His mother and 13 others, including his wife, sister, stepson, two priests and Youngstown Councilman Artis Gillam, D-1st, spoke on his behalf. The picture drawn in words for the judge was of a loving, caring, decent, gentle, thoughtful and religious man who never hesitated to help those in need.
Budd used a handkerchief to wipe tears from his eyes as the supporters spoke and pleaded for leniency.
Gillam, noting that he is a reserve deputy, said if he were ever in a foxhole and needed help he would ask that Budd be in the foxhole with him.
Budd's mother said he's innocent and she applauded him for not pleading guilty, adding he "pulled the sheriff's department up to the level it should be." She said he played football and tuba in high school and bought her a parrot -- Elvis -- to fill the void when her dog died a few years ago.
Budd's sister said her brother wasn't the ogre portrayed by the government lawyers. The judge pointed out that the portrayal came from trial witnesses, not federal prosecutors.
"I feel sorry for the residents of Mahoning County. They lost a good, hard-working, caring man," Budd's wife, Margaret, told the judge. "Disgruntled deputies smeared his good name. I love my husband very much. My husband is innocent of these crimes."
Budd, pointing to the gallery of supporters, told Judge Wells: "I am rich beyond compare."
About the case
Budd was indicted in October 2004. He was demoted to deputy and remained on the payroll until March, when he resigned.
In March, a jury found Budd guilty of obstructing justice, one prong of the two-prong first count in his four-count indictment. Jurors offered no verdict on the second prong of the count that alleged conspiracy to deprive inmate Tawhon Easterly of his right to be free from excessive force. The jury deadlocked on the remaining three counts of civil rights violations. Budd was found guilty of those counts at a second trial in April.
Budd was convicted of covering up his part when Easterly was beaten for a second time by guards and for personally beating two other inmates, rapist Brandon Moore and burglar Steve Blazo. The crimes occurred in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Judge Wells said Budd's conduct was "cruel and cowardly" and his role in the cover-up was "shocking to me." She said Budd, as a major, made a mockery of the constitutional protections afforded inmates in his care at the jail.
Judge Wells rejected a request by the government, represented by Steven M. Dettelbach and Kristy Parker, to increase Budd's sentence to the 135- to 168-month range. The judge said it was a "close call" -- the government presented a good argument -- but she felt the high end of the 78- to 97-month range reflected the seriousness of the crimes committed and sends a message.
Dettelbach described what Budd did as "super obstruction of justice" and said he needed to be punished for committing perjury at his two trials. Budd steadfastly held that he told the truth. He said he was the only one who testified who didn't change his story.
The prosecutor said Budd has a "total absence of remorse." He said Budd caused systemic corruption at the Mahoning County jail and ruined the lives of the deputies who followed his orders.
Budd lawyers, Martin E. Yavorcik and Sebastian Rucci, argued against the increase and felt a 30-month sentence was more in line with the time received by Budd's codefendants. The case includes seven former corrections officers, three of whom have not been sentenced. The four sentenced so far received sentences that range from 15 to 22 months in prison.
Judge Wells told Budd's lawyers that she found "very little in common" between his crimes and those of his underlings.
"These [victim/inmates] were in restraints. What kind of conduct is that for a law enforcement officer -- let's remember what we're talking about here," the judge said, chiding Rucci. "It's not the same case for the guy who's running the show."
The judge, in addressing Yavorcik, said Budd was the head of the sheriff's department Internal Affairs Division and, as such, investigated himself when allegations of inmate abuse were presented to the sheriff. "Do you think it was appropriate that he was investigating himself?"
"Not at all," Yavorcik answered.
"Thank you," the judge said.
Yavorcik suggested that maybe his client should never have been elevated to the rank of major "but he tried to do the best he could."