The legal defense team of former Richmond investment banker Allen Mead Ferguson is armed with some extra leverage after almost 50 of his friends submitted letters on Ferguson’s behalf, extolling his character and generosity leading up to his sentencing Friday for fraud.
The letters – written by a who’s who of the local business community – implore his attorneys to push the judge to consider Ferguson’s philanthropy, age, health and supposed public humiliation as reasons for leniency at his sentencing hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson.
For example, Al Broaddus, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond who was a fellow alum of Washington and Lee and a fraternity brother with Ferguson, wrote: “Allen has been exceptionally generous to a number of leading community institutions – financially, to be sure, but with his time and effort as well. His support of the local Boy Scouts chapter and St. Christopher’s School are especially legendary.”
Even a Richmond bank still owed money from Ferguson submitted a letter encouraging a sentence of home incarceration rather than jail time.
Ferguson, 75, pled guilty in November in what federal prosecutors said was a scheme that spanned four years and resulted in him obtaining $5.6 million in loans from several banks while lying about his wealth as collateral.
Once the head of old-time Richmond investment banking firm Craigie, Ferguson admitted during personal bankruptcy hearings in 2011 to lying about the existence of investment assets to secure more loans.
Bankruptcy liquidation of many of his and his wife’s assets, including their homes and artwork, has helped recoup about $3 million.
Prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office are asking for 36 months in federal prison for Ferguson. That’s below the five-to-seven-year range called for in federal guidelines for such crimes. The U.S. attorney’s office asked for a lesser sentence because Ferguson pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility, thus assisting authorities in their investigation and prosecution, according to court documents.
His attorneys, in crafting a character sketch of a businessman, veteran, father and mentor, are pushing for a sentence of supervised release with three years of home confinement, community service and restitution rather than prison.
Some of the letterheads include such names as former Treasury secretary John Snow (read his letter here), businessmen Wallace Stettinius and Austin Brockenbrough III, state Del. Christopher Peace and executives and former heads of Richmond’s upper tier law firms, financial firms, private schools, charities and churches.
Ferguson’s connections also helped him land free legal representation from one of Richmond’s biggest law firms. Richard Cullen, chairman of McGuireWoods and former state attorney general and U.S. attorney, agreed to represent Ferguson for free, along with McGuireWoods attorney Brandon Santos.
“There were friends and former business associates who were concerned and wanted to know how they could help,” said Will Allcott, a McGuireWoods attorney who is helping on the case. “Some came to us and asked us to represent him for free, which we agreed to do. Others coordinated this letter writing and sent them to us.”
Such letters are common in criminal cases leading up sentencing.
“It’s to give the judge some additional information and context about the individual,” Allcott said. “It’s an important part of the process to know who he is he as a person.”
There are letters from local attorneys from Troutman Sanders, Hunton & Williams and Thompson McMullan. There’s George Mahoney, president and chief executive of Media General. There’s Charles Stillwell, headmaster of St. Christopher’s School, from which all four of Ferguson’s sons graduated.
Even Billy Beale, chief executive of Union First Market Bank, one of the first banks to file suit against Ferguson for lying on loan applications, stated in a letter that the bank “would not be upset, or publicly express disappointment, if Mr. Ferguson were to be sentenced to probation rather than time in prison.”
Ferguson is described in the letters as a “legend for his skill and persuasiveness as a fundraiser for good causes.” And charities wrote letters summarizing the dollar amounts and time Ferguson donated over the years. A senior executive at the YMCA of Greater Richmond, for example, said in a letter that Ferguson had donated nearly $400,000 to the organization since 1993.
“While it is clear that Mr. Ferguson made an awful mistake in judgment that he openly admits, I believe that the very public personal crisis that Mr. Ferguson has suffered for the past two years has been sufficient punishment for his crime,” one letter pleaded.
A former classmate from Washington and Lee wrote: “I know that Allen is remorseful and embarrassed, particularly in the view of the view of the fact that we went to an institution with a strict honor code, meant to last throughout one’s lifetime.”
The judge’s sentence Friday will show whether the letter writing had any sway in the sentencing process.
But local attorneys say the notes can’t hurt.
“Judges really do make a point to read those letters and consider them in sentencing,” said John Davis, a white-collar defense attorney with Williams Mullen who previously was a prosecutor with the U.S. attorney’s office.
Davis said cynics will question whether one’s level of community involvement or perceived character should play a role in determining their sentence.
“Citizens can disagree on the answer to that question,” Davis said. “Judges do care about what you’ve done with your life. It can reduce sentences. A judge wants to know that a person in front of him has accepted responsibility and that the person is not a danger to society. And a judge wants to know if a defendant has a plan and a drive to improve and do better.”
James Bullard, a local white-collar criminal defense attorney, said the reputations of the letters’ authors also matter, particularly in an area the size of Richmond.
“When you have people who are prominent citizens writing on your behalf, that, I think does play a role,” Bullard said. “It does become part of the balancing that a judge considers.”
Ferguson’s hearing will be at 11 a.m. Friday in the federal courthouse on East Broad Street.
His wife, Mary Rutherfoord Mercer Ferguson, was not charged in the criminal case.