By Robert Brodsky
March 31, 2011Ending a long-running saga dating back six years, a federal district court judge on Wednesday sentenced Scott Bloch, the former head of the government's independent whistleblower protection agency under President George W. Bush, to one month in jail for withholding information from Congress.
Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson also sentenced Bloch, the former head of the Office of Special Counsel, to one year of unsupervised probation and 200 hours community service. But Robinson did not immediately order Bloch to prison, as the sentence will be appealed.
Bloch's attorney, William Sullivan, said he would file a motion to keep Bloch out of prison until the U.S. Court of Appeals can weigh in on the case. Robinson said she will consider the request. She will also consider a request from Sullivan that Bloch serve the one-month sentence in home confinement.
The sentencing previously had been delayed nine times as Bloch's attorneys, along with federal prosecutors, attempted to reconcile the statute and sentencing guidelines.
Bloch pleaded guilty in April 2010 to one count of criminal contempt of Congress -- a misdemeanor carrying a sentence of up to six months in prison -- relating to allegations he used an IT firm to "scrub" files from his work computer.
Defense attorneys and federal prosecutors have long supported Bloch's request for probation, arguing that he did not have a criminal history and faced sanctions to his law license. But in February, Robinson ruled that language in the criminal contempt of Congress statute required Bloch to be sentenced to a minimum of one month in prison.
Defense attorneys attempted to withdraw the guilty plea, arguing Bloch did not know the charge carried a mandatory prison term. Earlier this year, Robinson issued a ruling rejecting that request, noting that Bloch was aware when he pleaded guilty that the court could issue a harsher sentence than that recommended by prosecutors.
The sentence was celebrated by government watchdogs. "The contempt of Congress charge is just one of the many lowlights of Mr. Bloch's time as the head of the Office of Special Counsel," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight. "Considering all that Mr. Bloch did to make a mockery of his position, it's fitting that he'll have some time to reflect about his misdeeds in a federal prison."
The case dates back to December 2006, when Bloch allegedly directed the computer repair firm Geeks on Call to scrub files from his office computer, as well as those of two other political appointees. At the time, Bloch was being investigated by the inspector general of the Office of Personnel Management on allegations that he improperly retaliated against former employees.
The FBI raided Bloch's home and office in May 2008. Five months later, the White House forced him out of his job.
Prosecutors alleged in court filings that Bloch "unlawfully and willfully withheld pertinent information" about the deleted files from House Oversight and Government Reform Committee staffers during a March 2008 interview.
If the sentencing is not overturned, Bloch, who currently works at the law firm of Tarone & McLaughlin in Washington, faces the potential revocation of his law license from the District of Columbia Bar Association.
Bloch's likely successor, Carolyn Lerner, awaits a Senate vote on her confirmation.
By Robert Brodsky
March 31, 2011