Following John Paul Funes’ guilty plea last week in connection with stealing $550,000 from Our Lady of the Lake Foundation, attention now turns to what sentence will be handed down to the former OLOL chief fundraiser. In short, how much time will he do behind bars?
Funes pleaded guilty to one count each of wire fraud and money laundering, both of which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. While that’s a highly unlikely outcome, criminal law experts say it’s nearly impossible to predict what punishment will be handed down, as the federal sentencing guidelines use a complex point system that can be adjusted based on aggravating or mitigating circumstances.
Because Funes admitted guilt and has shown remorse, for example, his sentence could be adjusted downward, while upward adjustments could be made for his abusing a position of trust.
“It’s like a horse race,” says LSU criminal law professor Ken Levy. “You have to look at all the factors—the judge, sentencing guidelines, even things like Funes having (former U.S. Attorney) Walt Green as his attorney.”
Based on his cooperation and the offenses, though, sentencing guidelines could put his prison time between 33 and 41 months. A look at similar embezzlement cases handled in U.S Court for the Middle District suggests the sentence could range from one to three years. A Baton Rouge man in July 2017, for instance, was sentenced to serve 29 months for embezzling more than $1.4 million from his employer.
Veteran Baton Rouge defense attorney Karl Koch isn’t involved in the case, but after looking at the plea agreement and sentencing guidelines estimates Funes will receive a sentence between 37 months to 71 months (between three to six years).
The Funes case is a classic example of a white-collar crime, says Levy, who specializes in the area. Based on his experience, he predicts Funes will probably receive a light sentence, which could prompt public criticism and complaints that the punishment is unfair compared to other crimes committed by blue collar criminals or racial minorities.
Levy suggests comparing Funes’ crime to someone who steals 40 vehicles worth $20,000—which adds up to $800,000, or the amount Funes was initially accused of stealing in an independent audit before he was charged.
“If I went into Honda tonight and stole 40 cars, I’m easily looking at the rest of my life in prison,” Levy says. “Even if I did it over six years like this guy did. Or a black man stealing a few cars, versus a white man doing what Funes did, will get more years.”
He expects that if Funes was stealing from a relatively wealthy fund and it took years for anyone to notice, the response might simply be, “Oh well, no one got hurt.” But crimes involving economic harm are oftentimes worse than physical harm.
“Just because there’s no violence doesn’t mean it’s all OK,” he says. “Which would you rather, being punched in the face or someone stealing your life savings?”
(Note: This story has been updated since its original publication to include additional information.)