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Thrift Fraud Weighed on Scales of Justice : Crime: All but 4% of S & L convicts got less than 10 years. Study shows the average burglar does more time.


IRVINE — Criminals convicted of defrauding the nation's savings and loans receive prison terms far shorter than those imposed on the average burglar, according to a UC Irvine report released Wednesday.

The study, titled "Fraud in the Savings and Loan Industry: White-Collar Crime and Government Response," found that 78% of 580 thrift fraud convicts were sent to prison, but only 4% of them got terms of 10 years or longer and just 13% were sentenced to at least five years behind bars.

The median sentence was less than two years, according to the $240,000 study, sponsored by the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice and directed by Henry N. Pontell, a criminology professor at University of California, Irvine.

In 1988, for example, the average prison term given those convicted of major thrift crime was 36.4 months, while the average burglar got 55.6 months in prison and the average car thief was sentenced to 38 months, Pontell said.

The thrift cases that year accounted for losses of more than $8 billion, but judges meted out fines and restitution orders totaling less than $348 million and only a fraction of that amount was collected, the report says.

While sentences for S&L defrauders have been light in general, those convicted in serious cases involving major losses generally received much tougher sentences, the study found.

In the Lincoln Savings & Loan case, the most notorious failure, thrift operator Charles H. Keating Jr. was sentenced to 10 years in prison for state securities fraud and to 12 years, seven months on his federal racketeering, conspiracy and fraud convictions. He is appealing his federal conviction from prison.

In the study, Pontell and his colleagues also dissected so-called criminal referrals, regulators' requests for FBI investigations into suspected criminal activities mainly involving thrift insiders. They counted and matched names in the referrals, for instance, to see whose names came up repeatedly and what happened to them.

In California, they determined, that just one in four people "referred" by regulators for criminal investigation was prosecuted. In Texas, where most referrals were made, one in seven was prosecuted.

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