April 16, 2001

News Release

For Immediate Release
April 16, 2001

Contact: Michael Courlander
Public Information Specialist
(202) 273-4590

SENTENCING COMMISSION INCREASES PENALTIES FOR HIGH-DOLLAR FRAUD OFFENDERS, SEXUAL PREDATORS, AND ECSTASY TRAFFICKERS

Commission Also Amends Money Laundering Guidelines

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 16, 2001) -- At its April public meeting, the United States Sentencing Commission voted to increase penalties for high-dollar fraud and theft offenders, high-risk sexual predators, ecstasy traffickers, methamphetamine and amphetamine dealers, and human traffickers. The Commission also voted to link money laundering penalties more closely to the scheme that generates the illegal funds. These new guidelines will go into effect on November 1, 2001, absent action by Congress.

A priority for the Commission this year was economic crimes, with the Commission passing many new amendments in this area. The new amendments consolidate existing guidelines on theft, fraud, tax offenses and property destruction in order to increase penalties for high-dollar frauds or thefts and to reduce unwarranted sentencing disparity. In producing this package of amendments, the Commission was responsive to concerns raised by federal judges, prosecutors, probation officers, and practitioners regarding sentences imposed for white collar offenses. Prior to acting on these amendments, the Commission solicited public comment, gathered testimony from experts at a series of briefings and public hearings, and conducted a Symposium on Federal Sentencing Policy for Economic Crimes and New Technology Offenses in October 2000. Under the new guideline, the perpetrator of a $500,000 investment fraud, for example, will be subject to a sentence as high as 63 months, as opposed to a sentence as low as 27 months under the old guideline.

Said Commission Chair, Judge Diana E. Murphy, "The economic crime amendments result from several years of extensive research conducted by the Sentencing Commission in which the experience of countless professionals was consulted. Because approximately 20 percent of all federal defendants are subject to these economic crime guidelines, it was especially important that we address this area."

The Commission also took action to stiffen penalties for money laundering. Penalties for this offense will now be closely linked to the offender's underlying criminal conduct that generated the laundered funds. For example, a money launderer convicted of laundering $94,000 from the sale of five kilograms of cocaine would receive a sentence of 151 to 188 months under the new guideline, while under the previous guideline, a sentence of 63 to 78 months would have been imposed. The amendment also includes enhancements for sophisticated money launderers.

The Commission also adopted guidelines related to the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998 and voted to increase penalties in any case in which the defendant engaged in a pattern of activity involving the sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor. The new guideline targets high-risk sex offenders who are convicted of sexual abuse and have a prior felony conviction for sexual abuse.

In response to the Ecstasy Anti-Proliferation Act of 2000, the Commission voted to promulgate a permanent amendment that increases the guideline sentence for trafficking ecstasy. This drug, also known as MDMA, "Adam," or "XTC" on the street, has become increasingly popular with adolescents and young adults. The new amendment will increase sentences for trafficking 800 pills of ecstasy by 300 percent, from 15 months to five years. It increases the penalties for trafficking 8,000 pills by almost 200 percent, from 41 months to ten years. This amendment will become effective May 1, 2001, on an emergency basis, and will become permanent in the same manner as the other amendments on November 1, 2001.

Said Commission Chair, Judge Diana E. Murphy, "The Commission shares Congress's concern about the serious threat posed by the illegal importation, trafficking, and use of ecstasy and the danger this drug poses to the youth of America. For this reason, the Commission has made responding to the directives contained in the Ecstasy Anti-Proliferation Act one of its highest priorities."

After reviewing solicited public comments, oral testimony, legislative directives, statistical data, and sentencing trends that demonstrate an increased use of amphetamine, the Commission equated the penalties for that drug to methamphetamine. The Commission also promulgated increased guidelines penalties to address methamphetamine manufacturing labs that create a substantial risk of harm to human life and the environment.

The Sentencing Commission became aware of increased allegations involving the trafficking of children for illicit purposes after reviewing the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. As a result, it voted to increase penalties involving sex trafficking of children by force, fraud, or coercion; crimes of peonage; involuntary servitude; slave trade offenses; and possession, transfer or sale of false immigration documents in furtherance of human trafficking. The Commission's amendment incorporates into the guidelines the new offenses created by Congress and provides additional sentencing enhancements to reflect increases in statutory maximum penalties.

The Commission also adopted an amendment that more appropriately targets felons who unlawfully enter the country. Incorporating comments provided by members of the judiciary, prosecutors, and practitioners, the Commission seeks to effectively address the growing number of illegal immigration cases in the federal system by providing the highest penalties to prior felons convicted of crimes of violence, including offenses involving firearms and the trafficking of drugs.

Recognizing the use of new and readily available technology to illegally reproduce currency, the Commission amended the sentencing guidelines for counterfeiting. Under the newly adopted guideline, higher penalties will be imposed on offenders who produce counterfeit currency on an "as needed" basis. Testimony submitted by the Department of the Treasury and supported by Commission case data files demonstrate that due to the use of scanners, color copiers, and home computers, there is a growing number of cases involving less sophisticated counterfeiting operations.

Finally, the Commission enhanced the penalties involving acts of domestic terrorism. Under amendments addressing offenses involving the use of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, penalty increases suggested by Congress and requested by the Department of Justice were adopted.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent agency in the judicial branch of federal government, was organized in 1985 to develop a national sentencing policy for the federal courts. The resulting sentencing guidelines structure the courts' sentencing discretion to ensure that similar offenders who commit similar offenses receive similar sentences. Since nationwide implementation in January 1989, federal judges have sentenced approximately 550,000 defendants under the guidelines. The Commission must send its amendments to Congress by May 1, 2001. The amendments will take effect November 1, 2001, unless Congress passes legislation disapproving them.


United States Sentencing Commission