Convicted former attorney William Conour argues in a court filing Wednesday that he deserves leniency in sentencing and should receive less than the minimum advisory range of 14 to 17.5 years in federal prison for defrauding three-dozen clients of nearly $7 million.
Michael Donahoe, the court-appointed federal defender representing Conour, prepared a sentencing memorandum that argues the former leading wrongful-death and personal-injury attorney has shown remorse and taken responsibility since pleading guilty in July to a single count of wire fraud.
Chief Judge Richard Young of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana will sentence Conour at 2 p.m. Thursday in Room 347 of the Birch Bayh Federal Courthouse in Indianapolis. At least seven victims from whom Conour stole settlement proceeds have said they want to provide impact statements prior to sentencing.
“No one, least of all the defendant, disputes the gravity of the crime and the need for severe punishment. Mr. Conour recognizes the extensive and irreparable harm he has caused his clients, the legal profession, and his family,” the filing says. “He accepts full responsibility for his actions and is extremely remorseful for the consequences of his behavior.”
The brief says Conour should receive less than the advisory sentencing range calculated in a confidential pre-sentencing report prepared by federal probation. “The defense objects to the enhancements for vulnerable victims and obstruction, and the failure to recognize acceptance of responsibility in the guideline calculation.” Conour’s sentence also should not be enhanced because of the number of victims, the brief argues.
“William Conour is now 66 years old. The sentence sought by the government would almost certainly amount to a life sentence. Aside from retribution and vengeance it is difficult to find another purpose that would be served by achieving that result,” the memorandum says.
“Society reaps little benefit from imposing lengthy sentences on elderly, non-violent first offenders. In most cases the cost of such incarceration far outweighs any benefit. … Considering that this is Mr. Conour’s first offense, and it is certain that he will never practice law or hold a position of trust again, the chance that he will commit future crimes is miniscule,” the memorandum says.
The brief argues for a lesser sentence in part because of Conour’s success before his fall. “Mr. Conour enjoyed a stellar career spanning 38 years characterized by giving back to his profession and community. He was regarded by his peers as a leader, innovator, teacher and visionary. He accepted very difficult cases and the high risks that accompanied them, and more often than not was successful.
“He represented over 1,000 clients during his distinguished career and all, with the exception of the victims in this case, were paid at the conclusion of their case. It should be noted that the total number of victims amounts to less than one-third of 1 percent of his total clients, illustrating that illegal conduct was not predominate and did not characterize or define his law practice.”
The brief also seeks to downplay a government claim that Conour showed no acceptance of responsibility in a jailhouse interview with The Indianapolis Star.
“The opinions expressed by Mr. Conour reflect his subjective belief about the characterization of his conduct, as he views it, vis-à-vis how he feels the government views it. He has never questioned the seriousness of his criminal conduct. Many defendants who plead guilty disagree with the government about the relative harm caused by the offense. A common example would be a defendant charged with marijuana dealing who disagrees with the government about the harm from that activity,” the brief says.
While arguing in the brief that he accepts responsibility, Conour takes exception to how his crimes are labeled. “Mr. Conour also expressed his opinion that his behavior should not be characterized as a Ponzi scheme. The term ‘Ponzi scheme’ is not a legal term of art and is not defined in the federal criminal code. Whether certain fraudulent behavior deserves that label is a matter of opinion, and ultimately irrelevant. Both the government and Mr. Conour are entitled to their respective opinions on that topic,” the filing says.