Many legal observers were surprised in 2016 when a Louisiana federal judge sentenced a Hollywood film producer to probation for defrauding the state’s film tax credit program. This raised eyebrows because the producer was spared prison time despite sentencing guidelines that called for a custodial sentence of between 14 and 17 years. After issuing the sentence, the judge accused the prosecutors involved of being mean-spirited and overly zealous.
Prosecutors unhappy with the sentence filed an appeal, and the case was subsequently referred to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans. On Aug. 9, a panel of three judges ruled that the sentence should be set aside by a vote of 2-1. The federal appeals court also reinstated 14 of the 16 guilty verdicts against the film producer that had been overturned by the judge. The case will now be sent back to the original court and original judge for resentencing.
The producer was convicted of swindling Louisiana’s film tax credit program out of more than $1 million by misrepresenting the costs of converting a New Orleans mansion into a post-production studio. However, after hearing all of the evidence, the judge was not convinced that the scheme had actually cost the taxpayers of Louisiana any money.
Cases involving white-collar crimes are often controversial, and the sentences handed down to those convicted of them are often criticized for being either too harsh or too lenient. When the judges involved have a reputation for toughness, experienced criminal defense attorneys may seek to prevent prolonged and expensive legal battles and avoid draconian sentences by resolving these cases at the negotiating table rather than in front of a jury.