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Dec 23, 6:43 PM EST

Defense: Ex-gov should volunteer, not go to prison


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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Former Gov. Bob McDonnell's lawyers asked a judge Tuesday to order three years of community service for his federal corruption convictions while prosecutors recommended a prison term of at least 10 years.

McDonnell, a Republican who was once on the short list to be Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate, will be sentenced Jan. 6 for promoting a dietary supplement in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans. His wife, Maureen, also was convicted and will be sentenced Feb. 20.

"This offense is a total aberration in what was by all accounts a successful and honorable career," McDonnell's lawyers wrote. "Moreover, the conduct that led to this conviction is far outside the `heartland' of public corruption cases. No public official has ever before been convicted of federal or state corruption charges on the basis of similar conduct."

The attorneys said a sentence of "6,000 hours of full-time, rigorous, unpaid community service at a remote location served over three years" would be appropriate. That amount of hours would be about three years of working 40-hour weeks.

Prosecutors argued McDonnell's offense "was neither isolated nor the product of a single criminal choice. Rather, the defendant has been convicted of a bribery conspiracy that lasted nearly two full years, and the defendant repeatedly made conscious decisions to continue that conspiracy time and again."

McDonnell's attorneys provided a detailed account of his life and career sprinkled with laudatory quotes from many of the hundreds of friends and associates who wrote letters urging leniency.

The government asked U.S. District Judge James Spencer to impose a sentence within a guideline range of just over 10 years to a little less than 13 years. That range was calculated by the U.S. Probation Office based on a number of factors, including McDonnell's background and the seriousness of the offense. It includes an obstruction of justice enhancement based on what prosecutors say are lies in McDonnell's testimony.

McDonnell's lawyers are challenging the guideline calculations, arguing that the range should be 33 months to 41 months. They wrote that a prison term of any length, "much less one of ten years or more," would be too harsh.

Judges usually issue a sentence within the guideline range, but they are not bound by it.

Jeff Bellin, a professor at the College of William and Mary Law School and a former federal prosecutor, said McDonnell is looking at many years in prison.

"The judge would have to have a pretty good explanation why the former governor is getting such favorable treatment," Bellin said.

Defense lawyers said several charitable and religious organizations have offered a volunteer position to McDonnell. They specifically mentioned two: Operation Blessing International and the Catholic Diocese of Richmond.

Operation Blessing offered McDonnell jobs heading its hunger relief program in Appalachia or working at its orphanage and fish farm in Haiti.

"As with his volunteering during Hurricane Katrina, Bob has shown an authentic willingness to serve others no matter how difficult the task," group president Bill Horan said in a statement.

Virginia Beach-based Operation Blessing was founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson. McDonnell is a graduate of Robertson's Regent University law school. Robertson is one of 440 people who wrote letters supporting McDonnell and filed with the court as an appendix to the sentencing brief.

The Catholic Diocese offered to make McDonnell its regional coordinator in southwest Virginia, where he would coordinate prison ministry workshops and migrant worker outreach, defense attorneys said.

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