Friday, February 13, 2004

Erpenbeck prosecutors to go for maximum sentence

By James McNair
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Contending that Bill Erpenbeck has failed to live up to last April's plea agreement, federal prosecutors are expected to argue this morning that the former home builder deserves the maximum prison sentence of 30 years for his bank fraud conviction.

Erpenbeck was arrested last week on a witness tampering charge. The U.S. Attorney's Office, in a filing in U.S. District Court, said Erpenbeck no longer merits a shorter sentence in return for accepting responsibility for his crime or for providing "substantial assistance" to federal agencies investigating other suspects in the fraud scheme.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Brinkman will present that case to U.S. District Judge Arthur Spiegel today. Just eight days ago - before Erpenbeck and his father, Tony, were arrested on obstruction-of-justice charges - the prosecutor was willing to go as low as 27 years.

The subject of today's hearing is the pre-sentence report prepared for Bill Erpenbeck by the U.S. Probation Office. The report - and the agency's sentence recommendation - are confidential. But both the government and Erpenbeck's lawyer, Glenn Whitaker, filed objections to it.

In papers filed Jan. 23, Whitaker has said a prison sentence of no more than six months - if not probation or house arrest - would constitute an appropriate punishment. Letters from 24 people, including Erpenbeck's wife and three children, vouched for his character and contributions and the need for his presence at their new home in Fort Myers, Fla..

The hearing was to have taken place last Friday. What instead took place was the presentation of Erpenbeck, in tears and in handcuffs, and his father before a judge who threw them both in jail for allegedly trying to influence a witness called to testify at the hearing. The witness was Bill's sister, Lori Erpenbeck, a former Erpenbeck Co. accounting employee who also pleaded guilty to bank fraud and is awaiting sentencing.

Fred Alverson, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, would not say if Lori will appear at today's hearing.

"We have a lot of witnesses, but I'm not going to say who's on that list," he said Thursday.


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