The judge said he did not consider 'character letters.'
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- William Umbel, who had marijuana shipments delivered to his Pyatt Street Diner, has been sentenced to 51 months in federal prison.
Umbel, 57, of Youngstown, was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Peter C. Economus. Umbel remains free on bond pending placement by the federal Bureau of Prisons. After prison, he will serve three years' supervised release.
The judge, noting Umbel is not working, did not impose a fine.
The sentencing range had been 51 to 63 months.
Roger S. Bamberger, an assistant U.S. attorney, called the sentence fair and appropriate. He said the investigation continues.
Only himself to blame
In December 2004, Umbel pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana. The time span is from at least as early as 1995 through September 2003.
Vindicator files show that, over the years, Umbel's eateries included the Pyatt Street Diner on Pyatt Street and Colonial House on Market Street, both closed.
Judge Economus said in court that Umbel used the diner to receive regular deliveries of marijuana and encouraged his nephew, Kevin Rouan, to participate. Rouan, who also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana, will be sentenced Thursday.
Umbel's plea agreement states that he accepted deliveries from others -- 200 to 600 pounds at a time -- for his customers. The plea agreement requires him to cooperate with the government.
Umbel's Youngstown lawyer, James S. Gentile, told the judge Tuesday that his client, with failing businesses, was lured by the money to be made. Gentile said Umbel is remorseful.
"I put myself here today, your honor," Umbel said in court. "I have no one to blame but myself."
Umbel said he turned his back on his God and his faith but is now making good decisions.
Judge Economus, without mentioning who wrote what he called "character letters" on Umbel's behalf, said the letters were not considered in arriving at the sentence.
The federal judge said there's a perception that judges solicit and consider such letters. He said the perception is "completely inaccurate."
Judge Economus termed the letters self-serving, adding they were opinions, conjecture and supposition. He said what he needed to know was contained in the presentence investigation report.
In March, Gentile submitted character/reference letters to the federal judge from Judges R. Scott Krichbaum, Mahoning County Common Pleas Court; Robert A. Douglas Jr., Youngstown Municipal Court; and Charles J. Bannon, Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, who is retired but active again on the bench.
The judges, who were subpoenaed, submitted the letters in lieu of testifying in person to Umbel's character at sentencing. The Vindicator obtained the letters.
Judge Krichbaum wrote that he has known Umbel for 25 years, primarily through the Pyatt Street Diner, but also from social encounters. The judge described Umbel as polite and respectful.
"He is a man of intelligence, creativity and an outstanding work ethic," Judge Krichbaum wrote.
The judge said in his letter that he personally saw Umbel employ, feed and clothe people who were in need. He described it as an ongoing and dedicated way of life for Umbel.
"Although it is not my intent to interfere with your sentencing prerogatives, I do wish to say that Bill Umbel is worthy of an effort at rehabilitation, rather than incarceration, because his many qualities far outweigh his faults," Judge Krichbaum wrote.
Judge Krichbaum, during a phone interview in March, was asked if he had qualms about writing on behalf of someone who peddled a lot of marijuana for many years.
"I don't know what he did ... I was subpoenaed to speak to his character, the letter was concerning his character, it wasn't concerning what he did, particularly," the judge said. "Obviously, something like that [the letter] is not controlling on the judge, it's a normal part of sentencing."
He said such letters or testimony are intended to give the sentencing judge a good picture of the defendant, not to influence in any way.
"If people come to my court and offer information that is pertinent to sentencing, I appreciate that," Judge Krichbaum said. "It helps to assure a fair sentence."
Judge Bannon said in his letter that he has known Umbel "for years and years." He said Umbel is well known among personal friends and members of the Mahoning County Bar Association as a respected restaurant owner and businessman.
The judge said he and his wife and daughters have had many contacts with Umbel through the years and know that he is a man who deeply values the virtue of family and friends.
"Bill's reputation throughout the community for honesty and integrity is very good," Judge Bannon wrote. "He is well thought of by the community at large."
'Very positive and loving'
Judge Douglas' letter notes that his contact with Umbel was the result of an arms-length real estate transaction in October 2004. He said they had contact after the transaction ended.
"[Umbel] asked me if I would write a reference letter to the court as to how he related to his children based on my observations. I agreed," Judge Douglas wrote. He said Umbel "demonstrated a very positive and loving relationship to his children on every occasion I witnessed him and his children together."
Judge Douglas said in his letter that Umbel was "Mr. Mom" while his wife worked her full-time job. "His children responded to him as a loving parent," the judge wrote.
Umbel's case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration and overlaps with the huge indoor marijuana farm at 814 Marshall St. downtown that resulted in the indictment a year ago of Robert Arroyo and Joseph C. Pedaline, among others. Pedaline received 54 months in prison; Arroyo received 51 months.
Umbel's case also overlaps with one from October 2003 that involved several defendants, including Michael Hazlett of Hubbard, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess and distribute marijuana and being a felon in possession of a firearm. A year ago, he was sentenced to 51 months in prison.
"Umbel, Arroyo, Pedaline and Hazlett were friends and associates," DEA Special Agent Douglas E. Lamplugh, head of the Youngstown office, has said. "They dealt marijuana at different levels."