Law360 (August 27, 2020, 7:19 PM EDT) -- A Texas federal judge on Wednesday denied a COVID-19-related compassionate release bid from a former U.S. congressman serving a 10-year prison sentence on fraud and corruption charges, ruling any health risks he faces are diminished because he already recovered from COVID-19.
Stephen E. Stockman asked the court in mid-July to grant his motion for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582 and reduce his sentence to time served, citing the high number of COVID-19 infections at FCI Beaumont Low where he is incarcerated and his increased risk factors if he caught the virus.
But after filing his motion, Stockman earlier this month caught the virus and recovered from it, according to an order from U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal.
"Courts have found that an increased risk of COVID-19 infection or severe symptoms or effects because of an inmate's underlying conditions shows the 'extraordinary and compelling reasons' necessary for a sentencing reduction under § 3582(c)(1)(A)," the judge said. "But when, as here, an inmate is infected and recovers, courts have found that those risks change and diminish."
Stockman, R-Texas, was convicted in April 2018 by a federal jury of funneling what were solicited as charitable contributions into accounts that instead funded political campaigns and paid personal expenses. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Jurors found he fraudulently solicited about $1.25 million in donations between May 2010 and October 2014.
During the sentencing hearing, Judge Rosenthal told Stockman he "exploited" and "used" his colleagues — who testified against him at trial — to further the scheme.
"Then, there is the public trust in the integrity of campaigns and elections," she said, telling Stockman his actions have tarnished that trust. "You stole money, and you used it for personal gain, and then you compounded it by stealing public trust."
The judge also ordered him to pay $1 million in restitution.
In his July motion for early release, Stockman, 63, said he has a history of asthma, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, osteoporosis, hyperlipidemia, and vitamin D deficiency. But according to the judge's order, on Aug. 7, Stockman informed the court that he had contracted COVID-19. On Aug. 10, the Bureau of Prisons reported that Stockman had recovered.
Stockman confirmed to the court that that his symptoms have improved, but argued that the possibility of reinfection and long-term health complications were reasons for his release. He also argued he had not been given proper medical care.
"But these reasons do not show that the Bureau of Prisons cannot, has nor, or will not effectively manage Stockman's health conditions or that Stockman cannot provide self-care now that he has recovered from COVID-19 without serious complications," the judge said. "As the government notes, and Stockman admits, the number of positive COVID-19 cases at FCI Beaumont Low is declining."
Stockman also argued that a "toxic mold problem" at the prison threatened his health, but the judge said he had not exhausted his legal remedies with the Bureau of Prisons, and even if he had, she said "the record does not show that the mold problem has caused such serious health issues for Stockman that he cannot provide self-care, or that the Bureau of Prisons is unable to adequately manage his needs."
Counsel for Stockman declined to comment. The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The government is represented by Robert J. Heberle of the U.S. Department of Justice's Criminal Division.
Stockman is represented by Amr Adnan Ahmed of the Federal Public Defender's Office of the Southern District of Texas.
The case is U.S. v. Stockman, case number 4:17-cr-00116, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
--Additional reporting by Michelle Casady. Editing by Bruce Goldman.
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