Duke eager to begin his prison term

Sentencing moved up to Wednesday

The Times-Picayune/March 11, 2003
By Stephanie Grace

He spent years trying to avoid federal prosecution, but now that David Duke has pleaded guilty to two felony charges, he can't wait to go to prison.

The former Metairie legislator, perennial candidate for higher office and Ku Klux Klan grand wizard has asked U.S. District Court Judge Eldon Fallon to move up his sentencing date. Duke will now be sentenced Wednesday, a week ahead of schedule.

Duke has spent the past several years spreading his message of white supremacy abroad, mostly in Russia and Eastern Europe but more recently in the Middle East, where he has proffered the theory that Israel was complicit in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He was reportedly in Moscow in 2000 when the FBI raided his Mandeville house.

But he quietly returned to the United States late last year to see his ailing father and negotiate a plea deal. And now he's anxious to get his prison term under way.

"David wants to just go ahead and get it over with," said Duke's attorney, James McPherson. "I advised him that it's a good idea. . . It's like all the fears you have in life -- the reality is never as bad as our fears."

The sentencing hearing is not expected to hold much drama. As part of Duke's December agreement to plead guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of making a false statement on his 1998 income tax return, acting U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's office has agreed to a 15-month prison sentence and a $10,000 fine. That's in line with federal sentencing guidelines for a first offender, Letten said.

But Duke is not expected to find out Wednesday where he'll do his time, McPherson said. Fallon likely will tell him when to report, but he'll have to wait for the Bureau of Prisons to let him know where. Judges usually give defendants a chance to get their affairs in order, but McPherson said Duke "has had his time."

Sources familiar with the federal system say Duke likely will be behind bars in 10 days to two weeks from the sentencing date.

The investigation into Duke's finances became public in 1999, soon after he finished third in a nine-candidate 1st Congressional District primary. At first, authorities seemed to focus on Duke's relationship with Gov. Foster and 1996 U.S. Senate candidate Woody Jenkins, specifically on Duke's sale to them of information on his supporters for what some considered inflated prices.

The final charges, however, made no mention of those deals. The mail fraud charge grew out of what Letten described as Duke's six-year scheme to bilk thousands of followers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars through a direct mail campaign that asserted he was in dire financial straits and in danger of losing his home and savings. In fact, prosecutors said, he sold his home for a profit during that period, held numerous investment accounts and gambled away much of his take at casinos in Mississippi, Las Vegas and the Bahamas.

The tax return charge stemmed from Duke's declaration that he made $18,831 in 1998. Prosecutors said his gross income was actually $65,034.

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