WASHINGTON (CN) – Federal prosecutors filed a last-minute motion Tuesday to keep the former head of the federal whistle-blower protection office out of jail and save their plea deal. A judge ruled last week that Scott Bloch must serve at least one month in prison in connection to his plea of guilty last year for trying to undermine a congressional investigation against him.
The criminal contempt charge to which Bloch pled reads that is “punishable by a fine … and imprisonment in a common jail for not less than one month nor more than twelve months.” In a battle of semantics, Bloch and his attorney argued that “punishable” does not necessarily mean that the prison sentence is mandatory.
Bloch wanted the word defined as “capable of being punished,” which he claimed implied that the term is discretionary and that “only the term ‘shall be punished’ should be deemed mandatory.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office argued for the same interpretation, presumably in keeping with a deal it struck with Bloch, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson rejected the contention on Feb. 2.
“The court finds that Congress expressly provided for a mandatory minimum sentence of one month, evidencing its intention to do so; that the language by which it did so is unambiguous; and that no authority permits the court to disregard the provision, or to interpret it other than in accordance with its plain meaning,” she wrote.
The maximum penalty under the statute is a year-long prison term and a fine of $100,000.
Robinson added that sentencing, which was supposed to occur in last July, has been “repeatedly continued” over the legislative nuance. On Tuesday, Robinson delayed sentencing again to March 10.
The defendants and have another week to file supplemental memoranda in connection to the call for Robinson to reconsider her Feb. 2 decision.
In Tuesday’s motion, Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Leon pointed to existing case law that Robinson has the discretion to impose a sentence of probation in lieu of prison.
Bloch, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as special counsel for the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, was removed from office in October 2008 amid congressional and federal corruption inquiries. When Bloch first took office, he created controversy by stating that gay and lesbian employees could not be protected from discrimination.
Amid speculation that Bloch made it an OSC policy to not act on gay discrimination complaints and retaliated against ideological opponents in the office, prosecutors say ordered private techs in 2006 to “scrub” computer files referencing workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Judge Robinson’s ruling references the similar prosecution of beleaguered Major League Baseball player Miguel Tejada, who was let off the hook with probation after he was found to be in contempt of Congress for lying about his use of steroids.
A judge may have shown leniency in Tejada’s case, but Bloch will have no such luck unless the court grants prosecutors’ emergency motion to save his plea deal. If that’s the case, Bloch will not go to prison and will only be subjected to probation.