Verdict waits: Judge hints at life for Dowdell

Three months after his sentencing hearing, the final sentence still hasn't arrived for Terry Dowdell, admitted mastermind behind a global Ponzi scheme. However, the court has sent an indicator that in a case where up to $120 million was stolen, lenience isn't an option.

"His conduct caused financial harm beyond any this court has previously encountered," writes federal Judge James H. Michael Jr. in his July 22 opinion rejecting defense motions for a moderate sentence.

At issue was an error that Michael attributes to both defense and prosecuting attorneys, who used an earlier– and softer– set of sentencing guidelines in November 2002 when Dowdell entered his guilty plea for his 20 felonies. Under the old guidelines, Dowdell might have been looking at eight years; if the new guidelines stick, he faces life in prison.

Michael blasted the idea, put forth by Dowdell's lawyers at a May 30 hearing, of a "hybrid" sentence. Michael found "nothing exceptionally mitigating" to justify the downward departure, and he pointed to this exchange during the plea bargain:

Court: If the sentence is more severe than you expect, do you understand that you will still be bound by your guilty plea and will have no right to withdraw it?

Dowdell: Yes, sir, I do understand that.

 Defense attorney Fred Heblich has already filed a motion for Judge Michael to reconsider his stance. "We think he's misapplied the rules of criminal procedure," says Heblich.

Heblich says while his client is "upset" and "anxious," Dowdell is "hoping for the best."


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