The recent sentencing of a white collar offender to a life sentence in prison has raised some eyebrows and concerns in the criminal justice community. The life sentence for fraud crimes was allowed under the state's three-strikes law, which imposes a harsher penalty on repeat offenders. This man had already served time for two burglary charges in the 1990s, and prosecutors added a burglary charge in this case.
Many states around the country have three strikes laws, which result in a more severe penalty for repeat offenders. Even states that don't have a hard-line rule for a third offense impose greater penalties to people who have been convicted of the same or similar crimes multiple times.
However, mandatory life sentences are most frequently imposed for violent crimes. The defense attorney in this case told reporters that this was the only case they could recall that imposed such a long sentence for a non-violent offense.
The judge who sentenced the man likened the white-collar crime to the Madoff ponzi scheme. This man was only convicted of defrauding five people, whereas Mr. Madoff's stacked sentences were the result of billions of dollars in stolen funds from over 13,000 clients. The huge disparity in scale of those crimes makes the judge's comments seem hyperbolic and perhaps inappropriate.
The specific fraud allegations had to do with the man approaching older homeowners and offering to help them avoid foreclosure. He allegedly promised to help them keep their homes, reduce monthly payments, and catch up on overdue loans.
Source: The Los Angeles Times, "Housing scam brings up to life sentence under three-strikes law," Stuart Pfeifer, April 28, 2012