Pubdate: Mon, 31 Jul 2000
Source: Army Times (US)
Copyright: 2000 Army Times Publishing Company
Page: 18
Contact:  6883 Commercial Dr., Springfield, VA 22159
Fax: (703) 750-8612
Cited: Criminal Justice Policy Foundation:


Five-Month Term Not The Only Possible Punishment

Col. James Hiett came out a winner with a paltry five-month prison sentence 
in connection with his wife's drug dealing activities, a leading criminal 
justice expert contends. But Hiett ultimately may end up a big loser:

*The Army is still investigating, meaning he eventually could be 

*By law, soldiers like Hiett who are sent to prison can lose all pay and 
retirement benefits.

*Another law allows the Army to demote Hiett to the last rank in which he 
served honorably, thereby reducing his retirement pay.

*As a convicted felon, Hiett will have a tough time finding a meaningful 
job to support himself, his wife and their two young sons.

Still, compared to many civilians prosecuted for drug-related offenses, he 
"got a great deal. Five months was a very light sentence for his 
participation in this type of crime," said Eric E. Sterling, president of 
the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Helped The DEA

If Col. Hiett had been Mr. Hiett, he could have been locked up for as long 
as 25 years, Sterling said. Sterling surmises that Hiett, a Special Forces 
hero who suddenly plummeted from valor to villainy, may have benefited from 
the irony of having played a prominent role in helping the Drug Enforcement 
Administration's battle against narco-trafficking in Colombia.

Hiett was chief of staff of the United States Military Group in Bogota from 
mid-1998 to mid-1999. The group works with the DEA.

"I suspect that Col. Hiett provided enormous services to the DEA in 
Colombia, and that DEA agents and administrators went to bat for him with 
the U.S. Customs Service and the U.S. attorney," Sterling said.

Sterling's foundation studies problems with state and federal criminal 
justice systems. A former counsel to the House of Representatives' 
Committee on the Judiciary, he frequently lectures at colleges and 
universities and professional societies on such policy issues as drug 
sentences, crime prevention and gun control. And he has criticized the 
government's handling of Hiett's case.

Hiett, 48, was prosecuted by the U.S. attorney of the Eastern District of 
New York in Brooklyn. A judge sentenced him July 13 to five months behind 
bars after he pleaded guilty to turning a blind eye to his wife's drug dealing.

The Army Criminal Investigation Command investigated Hiett last year but 
brought no charges against him. A simultaneous probe by the U.S. Customs 
Service, however, resulted in his being charged with failing to tell the 
government that his wife was laundering money.

Laurie Hiett, 36, was dealing drugs through the mail. In the spring of 
1999, she sent six packages of cocaine and heroin from Bogota to New York 
City. Twice, she flew to New York to fetch the profits and upon returning 
to Bogota, handed her husband wads of cash totaling around $25,000.

Hiett claimed he didn't know it was drug money until later.

"If I were prosecuting the case, I would have charged him with money 
laundering, which carries up to 20 years," Sterling said.

The charge to which Hiett admitted -- misprision of a felony -- is seldom 
used in court, Sterling said. He called it "one of the great sentencing 
loopholes where you can let a cooperating co-defendant escape from heavy 
mandatory minimum penalties for drug cases."

The maximum punishment Hiett could have received for the misprision offense 
was 16 months, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jodi Avergun, who prosecuted him.

Hiett actually got 10 months. His five months behind bars will be followed 
by five months of home detention.

Laurie Hiett's lawyer, Miami-based Paul Lazarus, disagrees that the 
government gave the colonel a break.

"I think the man has paid too heavy a price considering his conflict was 
that he was put into a situation where he had to choose between love of his 
country and love of his wife," Lazarus said. "When you balance that against 
25 years of honorable service to his country, I think they should have let 
him put in his retirement papers and go quietly."

Hiett will not report for prison until Jan. 8. In the meantime, Lt. Gen. 
William M. Steele, commanding general, Army Combined Arms Center and Fort 
Leavenworth, is "currently evaluating the evidence against Col. Hiett to 
determine whether criminal prosecution under the Uniform Code of Military 
Justice is appropriate, or even possible," said Elaine Kanellis, an Army 
spokeswoman in Washington.

Because the Constitution's double jeopardy clause protects people from 
being prosecuted more than once for the same offense, Hiett cannot be 
court-martialed for the crime of misprision of a felony. But the Army can 
consider other crimes he may have committed in connection with his wife's 
wrongdoing, said an Army source familiar with military law.

Hiett also could be dropped from the rolls, which would totally wipe out 
his pay and retirement benefits, Kanellis said. Alternatively, he could be 
reduced in rank, which would cut his estimated monthly retirement pay of 
$4,200 depending on the grade of demotion.

'Connect The Dots'

Sterling finds it incredible that Hiett didn't know the large amounts of 
cash his wife gave him were obtained by illegal means. "All of a sudden one 
day, your spouse shows up with $10,000 in cash," he said. "A sophisticated 
person is going to connect the dots, and the dots are going to point to 
criminal conduct on the part of the spouse."

Hiett tried to cover up the windfall by purchasing money orders, paying 
bills and making cash deposits into different bank accounts. When the Army 
investigated him in support of the Customs Service, its agents asked Hiett 
to turn over his financial records. He refused, said Tony Miller, spokesman 
for the Criminal Investigation Command.

"When Col. Hiett refused to release his financial records, [we] notified 
Customs, and it was agreed that Customs would pursue that aspect of the 
investigation," Miller said.

Hiett's lawyer, Abraham Clott, a public defender in New York, declined to 
comment. But prosecutor Avergun and defense lawyer Lazarus confirmed that 
Hiett's guilty plea was a plea bargain whereby he waived his rights to a 
grand jury hearing and agreed to admit to a lesser felony to avoid further 

Meanwhile, Miller said the Army considers the Hiett matter an open case.

"The case is still ongoing."
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