Ministers, civic leaders, politicians urge probation, not prison, for Armstrong

Former state Rep. Joe Armstrong will bring church, community and politics with him next month when he stands before a federal judge and tries to stay out of prison, reports the News Sentinel.

Armstrong’s attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs, has filed 55 letters of support for the veteran legislator and leader in the black community in the run-up to a January sentencing hearing on the filing a false tax return conviction Armstrong suffered in August. The authors of the letters are tied to Armstrong in one of three ways – church, community service and his political career. The list includes ministers, civic leaders and business owners, including William Kouns, the co-founder of Jewelry TV, and politicians, including state Sen. Reginald Tate, state Rep. Larry Miller and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett.

Filings by Isaacs and Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Dale show the penalty range for Armstrong could be as low as 15 months or as high as 41 months. That gap will be the subject of a separate legal battle that will take place later this month before Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips.

…Dale wants Armstrong to go to prison for three years….”Those who choose to serve as elected representatives are uniquely obligated to obey the law, since their actions are always under public scrutiny,” Dale wrote.  “Allowing Armstrong to face anything less than a (three-year) sentence would send a particularly negative message to the public, that politicians can break the law without facing any significant consequences.”

…Isaacs is pushing to lower the penalty range itself because the lower the potential sentence, the more comfortable a judge feels in granting probation… Isaacs also argues Armstrong’s crime was “aberrant behavior,” and not something he has done before or will do again.

“It is undisputed that Mr. Armstrong has led an otherwise law-abiding lifestyle, with no criminal history whatsoever and actually a remarkable history of civic service and community involvement,” Isaacs wrote.

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