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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

(David) Baker Street

"Windin' your way down on Baker Street
Light in your head and dead on your feet
Well another crazy day
You'll drink the night away
And forget about everything"

- Baker Street, Gerry Rafferty (from the album "City to City")

The legal saga of former Scranton Housing Authority Director David Baker is apparently coming to a head.  Scranton Times article linked HERE.  You can read the article for all the details, so I'm not going to be repetitious.  No, I have another ox to gore here:  namely the potential sentence.

Before I get to that, I should offer the following disclaimers:  

Mr Baker is presumed to be innocent, and nothing I say here implies otherwise.

I've never met Mr Baker, so nothing I say here is indicative of him being a bad person.  For all I know he is a wonderful, all be it well-connected, person.  

Disclaimers noted, here's my beef:  Apparently the charges Mr Baker is pleading to have a penalty of up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine.  This is for someone originally accused of stuff such as fraud, bribery and witness influencing.  Nasty, nasty stuff.

I know, a year in the pokey is nothing to sneeze at, and hell I don't have an extra 5G's laying around, so I can't really complain.  Well, actually I can.  Here's why:  if you are caught with 280 grams cocaine (not selling it...simply having it) the federal minimum sentence is 5 years in jail (citation HERE).  

Ponder that for a moment.

Try and blow your mind away with 28 grams of crack (for those of your not familiar with the metric system, 28 grams is not a lot of stuff) and you must go to jail for 4 years longer than someone who allegedly engaged to fraud, bribery and witness influencing.  Oh, and this nefarious stuff involved public money.

I'm not trying to minimize the harm that drug use can cause.  My point is that authorities have a tendency to minimize the harm of white collar crime, especially when that crime involves messing with my (and your) tax dollars.  Put another way, cause personal harm and you go to jail for 5 years; cause harm to the public trust and mis-use public money and the penalty is 80% lower. 

The system is, quite frankly, messed the hell up.  Anyone in a position of authority who is found guilty of these kinds of crimes is doing far more harm in totality than any crackhead holding 28 grams.  The crackhead has a reach as far as his/her spindly arm can extend; the white collar criminal has a reach that extends far beyond his/her grasp.  Why the difference?  I think it's because our society has a preference for the clean, the tidy, the influential and the connected.  All of those things describe a typical white collar criminal, while none of them probably describe the average crackhead.  Drug abusers are not clean, they are often unkempt, they can't even influence their own behavior (let alone others) and the only connections they have are usually to their dealers.  

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