Viktor Bout Sentenced to 25 Years, Judge Rejects Life Sentence

Bump and Update: The Judge rejected the Government's request for a life sentence, and sentenced Viktor Bout to 25 years, the minimum term possible given the mandatory sentence requirement of the statute. Mr. Bout did address the judge:

"Your honor, I am not guilty...."I never intended to kill anyone. I never intended to sell arms to anyone. God knows this truth."
According to the Judge,
... Mr. Bout simply took advantage of the opportunity presented to him, rather than actively looking to commit a crime that could be prosecuted in U.S. courts. She also said the federal sentencing guidelines in the case called for too harsh a sentence.

Presumably, he will get credit for his jail time since March, 2008 in Thailand, since he was only being held on our extradition request. He will get credit for the time in custody since he got to the U.S. That would make the sentence 21 years, of which he will have to serve 85% or 17.8 years, if he doesn't win his appeals and Congress doesn't increase good time while he's serving the sentence. He'd be 66 when he gets out. The Judge made the right call in my view by refusing to sentence him to life or 30 years. [More...]

Bout got angry at points during the hearing:

He made a brief and angry statement, pointing at federal agents in the crowded courtroom and accusing them of lying about him. "They will live with this. ... They'll have to raise their children with this truth," he said bitterly in Russian as a translator repeated the words in English. At one point early in McGuire's statement, Bout shouted, "It's a lie!"

Original Post 4/4/12

Russian businessman Viktor Bout, 48, faces sentencing tomorrow in federal court in New York. The Government is seeking a life sentence. Bout's lawyers want to prevent the sentencing hearing from proceeding, alleging his prosecution was the result of outrageous Government conduct.

Two days ago, Russia's State Duma deputy Aleksey Pushkov tweeted threats that Russia would cease extraditing U.S. citizens and just try them in Russia instead.

“Bout is getting a life sentence. He is, of course, our citizen. The USA is setting a precedent,” reads the first tweet. “I think we will put Americans on trial if they commit crimes in our country. From now on they are not subject to extradition.”

The U.S. Embassy in Russia tweeted back that this is how our system works, and the prosecutors don't decide sentences, judges do.

Russia reportedly has also compiled a list of US citizens who will be denied entry to Russia due to their role in the Bout case.

Viktor Bout gave an interview to Voice of Russia this week in which he called himself a "hunted deer" that the U.S. wants to put on it's trophy wall.

I am like a hunted deer that they killed and now…want to take a picture; like I’m some wild animal and now they caught me and they’re going to put me in their kitchen and show their kids and their grandkids and say, ‘Oh, we hunted that animal,’” he is quoted as saying.

Bout says the U.S. spent $100 million setting him up, extraditing and prosecucting him, and the only thing his prosecution accomplished was a waste of U.S. taxpayers' money:

“The DEA don’t need to go into dangerous situations and fight real drug dealers, they can appoint somebody, an easy catch, create a little bit of story, make sure nobody asks them any questions, and then, you know, get points,” he stated.

He says he is a victim of the U.S. media:

But who in the first place created the myth about this animal? They don’t care. They don’t want to know the truth. They believe what they have been eating or what they have been fed through the mass media or mainstream media in (the United States). They can manufacture jurisdiction like they did, they can manufacture nexus’s, they can manufacture a lot of legal stuff but they can’t manufacture the truth.”

Thailand is again reviewing the decision to extradite Bout to the U.S. Two lower courts rejected his extradition, but a Thai appeals court later granted it. A hearing on whether the extradition was unlawful was supposed to begin on March 26, but Bout's 73 year old defense lawyer, Lak Nitivat Vichan, who had represented him for four years, died so it was continued. Currently, he has no lawyer.

Bout spent 2 1/2 years in a Thai prison awaiting extradition.

The court decided to review the case on the grounds that, first, new facts have been uncovered, according to the defense, and, second, Bout's extradition was illegal as he was still under the Thai court's jurisdiction. Under Thai law, the extradition order was not sufficient to extradite Bout as the court also needed to issue a permit for Bout's transfer from prison.

In another interview a few weeks ago, Bout gave his theories on why he was targeted by the U.S. He said his case is political, not criminal. He also said he will not ask for leniency at his sentencing:

I think I will be sentenced to life in prison, but I will not cry. I have nothing to reproach myself for. I will not make a final plea. I don’t want to make a show. Who would be watching anyway?

Also a few weeks ago, the Judge in his case ordered he be transferred out of solitary confinement, saying he is not a terrorist.

"This case differs significantly from a standard terrorism case....As noted earlier, Bout was approached by government agents, posing as members of the FARC (a terrorist organization) and after many conversations agreed to sell them arms. There was absolutely no evidence at trial that he had any connection (now or ever) to any member of the FARC.

To the contrary, the evidence showed that Bout performed research on the FARC because he knew little about them and that he was initially not inclined to do business with such an organization. Indeed, the evidence did not reveal any ties to any terrorist organization in the last ten years.

Completely unsubstantiated allegations of 'affiliation with a terrorist organization is not sufficient cause' to single out a prisoner for administrative detention. Moreover, there was never any evidence offered at trial that Bout himself engaged in violent acts; rather, the evidence showed that he was a businessman engaged in arms trafficking.

Bout was the subject of an international sting operation masterminded by the DEA, using two informants posing as FARC members, and the cooperating testimony of a former business associate of Bout, Andrew Smulian. The DEA first set up Smulian through a third informant, Mike Snow, who lured Smulian to Curacao. In Curacao, the two pretend FARC informants, Carlos Sagastume and Ricardo Jardenero, proposed the arms deal to Smulian, hoping he would reel in Bout. Smulian and Bout hadn't done business together in 10 years according to Bout's defense.

The lead informant, Carlos Sagustume, has been paid $9 million for his informant work (he was also the informant inn several other drug and weapons cases, including that of Monzer al Kassar, who is serving 30 years.)

The same prosecutor led the Bout and Kassar prosecutions. I found that interesting, because as I wrote here:

The stings in both cases were really similar. From a juror's description written after the trial, it seems the prosecutor used same tactics. With one exception. In the Kassar case, the jurors were hung up for a while on whether the Government had proved Kassar intended to kill Americans. The juror writes:

We spend two hours looking for quotations from al-Kassar and Moreno specifically referring to killing Americans. There is no recording that says, “Let’s kill Americans,” or “I’m glad that the FARC will use these weapons to kill Americans.” But bits and pieces are clear enough for us to come to a tentative conclusion.

The DEA obviously went to great lengths not to make that mistake again. Reading through the 89 page transcript of the meeting between Bout, Smulian and informants Carlos and Ricardo, they used him to play the loose cannon, who talked constantly about wanting to kill Americans.

As to how former Guatamalan drug dealer Carlos Sagustume came to be an informant, he testified in the Bout trial:

Sagastume testified his supplier in Guatemala got busted and Mexican police took him to Mexico, where he was freed after paying a $60,000 "ransom." He then contacted the U.S. embassy offering to be an informant for the DEA. The DEA brought him to the U.S. in 1998 and he's been working as a paid informant for them ever since. He's made over 150 cases and says it's the best paying employment he's ever had.

Bout was arrested at a hotel in Thailand after meeting with the pretend guerrillas and ultimately extradited to the U.S. He was charged with conspiring to kill Americans and US officials, illegal surface-to-air missile trafficking, and supporting terrorism through cooperation with the Colombian terrorist organization FARC.

Bout maintained he was negotiating to sell two airplanes, not arms. His co-defendant, Andrew Smulian, who initially got caught up in the sting, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government and testify against Bout to receive a lesser sentence.

During Bout's trial, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov promised continued support for Bout, as well as for Russian pilot Yuri Yaroshenko, convicted in the DEA's Excellent African Adventure Sting, including paying for experienced lawyers. (Two of the four defendants were acquitted and returned home to Africa.)

Our citizens may be certain that our country will not leave them in an unjust situation…These cases have attracted wide publicity,” Lavrov said in a radio interview.

“We are actively supporting both [Bout and Yaroshenko], as well as other Russian citizens who find themselves in similar situations…This support includes hiring experienced lawyers if necessary,” the minister said.

Some Viktor Bout Extradition Documents:

In the present Viktor Bout case:

The case boiled down to two competing versions: The Government's version is that Bout has always been an arms dealer and the fake Farc informants merely provided him with an opportunity he was all too eager to accept. Bout's version is that he was "an innocent and broke businessman in a scheme to sell a pair of old airplanes." More on the airplane defense at BBC here.

The Government's witnesses were a DEA agent, two of the DEA informants, the duped 70 year old co-conspirator/former business associate who is getting a sentencing deal for testifying against Bout, and two witnesses who said Bout sold arms in 1997-1998. Its evidence consisted of surreptitiously recorded phone calls and meetings, e-mails and records obtained during searches of Smulian and Bout's computers. I wrote a much more detailed description is here.

The defense did not put on witnesses. It argued the prosecution has the burden and failed to meet it. The jury believed the Government's version and convicted. (The jury foreperson, it turns out, realized sometime during the trial she had seen Lord of War and that it was about Bout. The judge refused to grant a new trial because of it.)

Why wasn't this case dismissed based on manufactured jurisdiction? Here's the Court's order denying Bout's motion. Why did the judge reject Bout's motion to dismiss based on vindictive prosecution and violation of extradition law? Here's the Court's ruling.

As to whether Bout conspired to kill Americans, just read the transcript of the recorded meeting. The fake Farc commandante informant is going off like a nut-job -- it reads like Arlo Guthrie's version of what he told the shrink to get out of the draft in Alice's Restaurant:

And I went up there, I said, "Shrink, I want to kill. I mean, I wanna, I wanna kill. Kill. I wanna, I wanna see, I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth. Eat dead burnt bodies. I mean kill, Kill, KILL, KILL."

And I started jumpin up and down yelling, "KILL, KILL," and he started jumpin up and down with me and we was both jumping up and down yelling, "KILL, KILL." And the sargent came over, pinned a medal on me, sent me down the hall, said, "You're our boy."

What was Viktor Bout's response to the informant's outburst and tirade? He said "yes" a few times and at one point, "We will prepare" and "We have the same enemy." I wonder how many people in that situation would have risked voicing their disagreement?

The lowest sentence the Court can impose tomorrow is 25 years because of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. The Government is seeking life. The probation department recommended 30 years.

All of TalkLeft's Viktor Bout coverage is here.

Is this a case deserving of a 25 year or life sentence? Is it a case America should have brought and tried? Not in my view. Send Victor Bout (and pilot Yuri Yaroshenko) home to Russia. We have better things to do with our tax dollars than pay $22,000 a year for decades to incarcerate either of them. Russia has demanded the return of both.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Life sentence? (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by ruffian on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 10:19:19 AM EST
    I just don't see the need. If they were able to pull off this massive sting, they surely are able to keep a good enough eye on him outside of prison. What about using these covert operations to prevent crime, rather than provoke it? Seems like a better use of money.

    Much like preventing disease... (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by kdog on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 10:23:35 AM EST
    there is no money in preventing crime.

    It would be cheaper for the taxpayer, yeah...but nobody cares about the taxpayer, the DEA and outfits like CCA want their welfare checks, f8ck the taxpayer.

    If Bout is such a bad dude, we should consider ourselves lucky Russia wants him.


    Probably true (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by ruffian on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 10:41:38 AM EST
    I am envisioning a squad of 'talk him out of it' agents. No money in that for anyone but the taxpayer. And no fun for the multitude of people that get their kicks out of having secret agent sting jobs.

    Wouldn't that be nice.... (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by kdog on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 10:45:36 AM EST
    a "talk them out of it" squad instead of our many borderline entrapment squads.  How civilized!

    My world would be a lot like an episode (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by ruffian on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 10:52:59 AM EST
    of 'Touched By an Angel'.

    I don't know, but I suspect (none / 0) (#11)
    by gyrfalcon on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 11:31:46 PM EST
    the intent with this stuff is to make all arms dealers, etc., leery of putting a foot wrong out of fear they're dealing with U.S. agents.  I suspect they consider people like Bout no-goodniks who are simply collateral damage.

    Yes, the US does not like competition (5.00 / 0) (#14)
    by ruffian on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 11:11:05 AM EST
    in the area of arms dealing, that's for sure.

    Thank you for (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Peter G on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 02:06:06 PM EST
    reading the lengthy post more carefully than I apparently did! Mandatory minimum sentences are an abomination, a Congressional insult to the general excellence and independence of federal judges.  25 yrs is surely plenty.  A sentence above the Probation Officer's 30-yr recommendation, from this judge in this case, seems very, very unlikely to me.

    I don't like (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by lentinel on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 03:59:35 AM EST
    "stings" - when conducted by our government.

    Many people can be lured or seduced into doing things that they would not think of undertaking on their own.

    How nice (none / 0) (#1)
    by koshembos on Wed Apr 04, 2012 at 10:11:02 PM EST
    We behave like a mafia eager for vengeance, while the Russian don't hide the bullying they have become famous for.

    Is Bout a broccoli?  

    The government can ask for a life sentence (none / 0) (#7)
    by Peter G on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 11:24:31 AM EST
    but the decisionmaker as to the sentence in this case is U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin.  She is no government hand-maiden or "second prosecutor." Based on the nature of the case and the independence of the judge, I would not expect a sentence above 25 years, and maybe less.  Perhaps we shall see how wrong I am!

    According (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by lentinel on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 01:29:49 PM EST
    to Jeralyn above, 25 years is the best he can hope for.

    Hey, I got it right. (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by Peter G on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 08:36:53 PM EST
    Time to retire from the business of predicting sentences!

    First thing I thought of... (none / 0) (#13)
    by kdog on Fri Apr 06, 2012 at 09:43:07 AM EST
    when I saw the update...Give Peter G. a ci-gar!