Scott Bloch, the former head of the Office of Special Counsel under the George W. Bush administration, was sentenced today to serve 24 months of probation and spend a day in jail. Bloch pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of destroying government property after hiring an outside computer company to delete files from several work computers, including his own.
Bloch angled throughout the course of his case to avoid jail time. He originally pleaded guilty to a contempt of Congress charge, but successfully argued to withdraw the plea after learning he would face jail time, contrary to what both sides believed when they reached a deal. In late 2012, prosecutors charged Bloch with the related destruction of government property offense. Bloch asked for a sentence of probation, a fine and community service, which the government did not oppose.
At sentencing today, U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins said that although the crime Bloch was charged with was relatively minor, he didn't feel Bloch had fully “come clean.” Bloch maintained that he wanted the computers wiped because he was concerned about viruses, but Wilkins said Bloch left too many questions unanswered about why he ordered the service for multiple computers. At the time, Bloch was facing a still-pending investigation by the Office of Personnel Management’s Office of Inspector General into allegations of retaliation against his employees; Bloch has said his handling of the computers was unrelated.
“This depredation of property seems to have gone beyond just the innocent explanation of there being a virus and therefore a wipe is necessary to get rid of the virus,” Wilkins said. Bloch’s attorney, William Sullivan Jr., of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, asked if Bloch could serve his one day in jail via home detention. Wilkins denied the request, saying he didn’t think home detention would reflect the “seriousness” of the offense.
Following the hearing, Bloch said he was “just grateful that it’s over” and was looking forward to moving on with his life. Bloch said he didn’t think the sentence would affect his solo law practice, but that he’d have to wait and see. The Office of Bar Counsel for the D.C. Bar has not initiated any public disciplinary proceedings to date.
The jail time was ordered as a condition of his probation. Bloch will also have to pay a $5,000 fine and complete 200 hours of community service.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Connor, chief of the Fraud and Public Corruption Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office , said after the hearing that she thought Wilkins was “very thoughtful” in reaching his decision.
Bloch was appointed in 2004 by Bush to serve as head of the Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that advocates for federal whistleblowers. Before he resigned in 2008, his tenure as special counsel was marred by allegations that he retaliated against whistleblowers in his office and discriminated against gay and lesbian federal employees.
Prosecutors originally charged Bloch in April 2010 with withholding information from congressional investigators during a probe into allegations that he ordered a private company, Geeks on Call, to wipe data from his office laptop and several other government computers in 2006.
Bloch maintained he hired the company because he was experiencing problems with his computer and was concerned the machines might be exposed to security threats. He rejected claims that the computer wipes were related to the investigation by the Office of Personnel Management’s Office of Inspector General.
Bloch pleaded guilty to the contempt charge before U.S. District Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson.
Bloch and government lawyers assumed Bloch could get probation, but Robinson said he would have to serve a month in jail. Bloch moved to withdraw his guilty plea, a request Robinson denied. Bloch asked U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth to review Robinson’s decision. In August 2011, Lamberth found Robinson abused her discretion and ordered her to allow Bloch to withdraw the plea.
Now back to square one, prosecutors charged Bloch with depredation of government property valued at less than $1,000 in December 2012. The charge carried a maximum sentence of one year in jail, but under the terms of his subsequent plea deal, prosecutors agreed not to oppose a sentence at the lowest end of the guidelines. Bloch pleaded guilty to the destruction charge with respect to three computers-his own and two used by former employees.
Bloch was supposed to be sentenced in May, but Wilkins pushed back the date, saying he needed more information on Bloch’s previous plea deal and the application of sentencing guidelines for cases in which there was an abuse of a position of trust or obstruction of the administration of justice. Sullivan and prosecutors both said they did not think either sentencing guideline applied. During today’s hearing, Sullivan said that although Bloch wasn’t forthright with investigators, there was no evidence he intended to obstruct an investigation or prosecution.
Wilkins found the obstruction guideline applied, however, saying Bloch was evasive and gave false statements to congressional investigators when asked about the computers. He credited Sullivan’s arguments that Bloch spent much of his life in public service and regularly gave back to the community, but said he believed there was more to the story than what Bloch had said.
A one-day jail stint isn’t a unique punishment scheme—at least not in Washington federal district court. Last year, Kwame Brown, the former chairman of the D.C. Council, was ordered to serve one day locked up. In 2011, two people—former lobbyist Trevor Blackann and ex-House of Representatives staffer Fraser Ferrusio—were each told to serve a day behind bars.
Mike Scarcella contributed to this report.