As he sent Morris Olmer to prison, a judge said the 83-year-old former New Haven lawmaker will be no threat to society when he gets out —assuming he lives that long.
Chief U.S. District Judge Alvin Thompson acknowledged Olmer’s mortality Monday morning as he sentenced the former alderman and state legislator to five years in prison for his role in a 15-member mortgage fraud conspiracy.
Olmer (pictured outside the courthouse Monday) was convicted in April of his role in the conspiracy, which affected 29 properties in New Haven, New London, and elsewhere, leaving blighted homes in its wake.
Monday’s was Olmer’s second sentencing hearing in six days. The judge held over a hearing from Wednesday after he had difficulty reconciling the remorseless white-collar fraudster he’d seen during the trial with the contrite former public servant Olmer presented himself as at the sentencing hearing.
On Monday, Olmer had a second chance to express remorse and ask for a merciful sentence.
He stood up to speak in the second-floor federal courtroom in Hartford at shortly past 10 a.m. He wore pleated khakis, a lavender shirt and checkered tie. A folded newspaper crossword puzzle stuck out of the right pocket of his blue blazer.
“I know that I did wrong,” Olmer said. “Worse, I knew that I was doing wrong while I was doing it.”
Olmer said he was suspicious when “young people” started coming into his office to have him act as a notary on closings. It was clear they had no intention of living in the homes.
Those “young people” were “straw buyers,” conspirators who were paid to apply for and receive fraudulently inflated mortgages for homes they couldn’t pay for. The straw buyers would accept mortgage money from the government, then purchase the home for the actual, lesser, price, funnel the difference to the conspiracy, and abandon the home to foreclosure.
“I knew that they were lying and I should have done something about it,” Olmer said. He said he wishes he’d spoken up “for me and for them.”
“Here I am a big liberal,” who had been trying to help people as a legislator, Olmer said, and when the opportunity to help someone directly appeared, he did nothing.
“If I had warned them, if I had told them, I could have stopped them and stopped myself,” Olmer said.
“The humiliation and shame that I feel is horrible,” he said. “My children have to bear this humiliation, and I feel that more than anything.”
“I supposed it’s good that Mr. Olmer now wishes he’d done something to help people, but the fact is he didn’t,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Glover. “He makes it sound like they were doing it. He was doing it.”
Olmer had many previous opportunities to express remorse—when he was first questioned by federal agents, during the court case, during probation hearings—but did not take advantage of them, Glover said. “This is it for Mr. Olmer. He’s doing what he needs to do, or feels he needs to do.”
Weighing Life’s Approaching End
At 10:30 a.m. Monday, Thompson began delivery of his sentence, the purpose of which is fivefold, he said. A sentence must be just punishment; it must protect the public from further crimes, be an adequate deterrent to future crimes, promote respect for the law, and serve the goal of rehabilitation, Thompson said.
The judge said that last week he had had “serious concerns” about whether he needed to weigh the second and third purposes—protecting the public and deterring future crime—over the others.
“That’s why I wanted to give you more of a showing,” Thompson said.
“Your co-defendants had lots of people who came and spoke on their behalf.” He said he recognizes that many of the people who may have spoken on Olmer’s behalf are no longer living.
After hearing from Olmer, Thompson said, he is sufficiently assured that he does not need to put weight on the second and third purposes. “I think you’ve gotten the message.”
Thompson said he’s also taken into consideration the fact that Olmer is nearing the end of his life: “If you are able to survive the sentence, I don’t think you’ll be in any shape to commit anymore offenses.”
On the other hand, a number of factors point toward the imposition of a longer sentence, Thompson said. Olmer was trained as a lawyer and violated his bar oath, he “engaged in obstructive conduct” during the fraud investigation, and he was practicing law without a license. All together, those factors should add up to a sentence of between 87 and 108 months, Thompson said.
But mitigating factors of health and age mean “such a sentence would have a disproportionately hard impact on you,” Thompson said. He said he opted for a sentence that is “lesser” but “still significant.”
“I regret that that is my conclusion,” Thompson said. “It will be 60 months. Please stand.”
Sadie Will Be Missed
Thompson sentenced Olmer to five years in prison on each of the 13 counts against him, to be served concurrently, followed by three years of supervised release. Thompson did not impose a fine, citing Olmer’s inability to pay. A restitution payment will be determined at an October hearing. Olmer will begin serving his sentence in November.
“Thank you, your honor,” Olmer said. “Thank you for your consideration.”
“I think the judge really gave me an opportunity to explain myself,” Olmer said later, outside the courthouse. “I think it was a fair sentence.”
Olmer said most of all he’s going to miss his two-and-a-half-year-old miniature Doberman, Sadie.
Olmer was asked about the fact that his court statements did not include the phrase “I’m sorry.”
“I’ve tried to say I’m sorry,” Olmer responded. “Of course I’m sorry this occurred.”
Previous coverage of this case:
• White-Collar Criminals Sent To Slammer
• Judge Baffled By Two Morris Olmers
• Feds Will Retry Avigdor
• 4 Convicted In Fraud Scam; Mistrial For Rabbi
• Jury Can’t Agree In Scam Trial
• Avigdor’s Final Plea: Follow The Money
• Claire: The Rabbi Is Kosher
• Wednesday The Rabbi Took The Stand
• Straw Buyer Lured Into A Wild Ride
• After Big Fish Plead, Smaller Fry Point Fingers
• Slum-Photo Doctor Makes A Call
• What Happened At Goodfellas Didn’t Stay At Goodfellas
• Fraud Trial Opens With Oz-Like Yarn
• “Partying” MySpacer Lined Up Scam Homebuyers
• “Straw Buyer” Pleads Guilty
• Neighbors, Taxpayers Left With The Tab
• FBI Arrests Police Commissioner, Slumlord, Rabbi
• One Last Gambit Falls Short
• Was He In “Custody”?
• Is Slum Landlord Helping The FBI?
• Feds Snag Poverty Landlord
• Police Commissioner Pleads