Judge leaves probation as a possibility for former Rep. Armstrong

A federal judge in Knoxville has ruled in former state Rep. Joe Armstrong’s favor on legal issues involving the sentence he faces following a conviction for filing a false income tax report, according to the News-Sentinel. The upshot: He faces lighter punishment than would have been possible had the judge adopted the prosecution’s arguments and his attorney, Gregory Isaacs, will get the chance to argue for probation when he appears in federal court for sentencing on Jan. 25.

A federal jury found Armstrong, a Democrat who represented East Knoxville’s 15th District for nearly 30 years, guilty in August of filing a false tax return, a felony. The longtime legislator failed to report or pay taxes on a $321,000 profit from selling cigarette tax stamps in 2008.

Assistant U.S. attorneys Charles Atchley and Frank Dale want prison time for Armstrong and initially sought a sentence of three years, the maximum under federal law.

 Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips wrote in an opinion filed Wednesday that the U.S. Probation Office has calculated Armstrong’s penalty range at a lower amount under the guidelines used to determine sentencing throughout the federal court system. The judge also ruled Armstrong, who had no criminal record prior to his conviction, should be held responsible for a lesser amount of money lost in potential taxes and that prosecutors failed to show he lied under oath during his trial.

The ruling translates to a potential sentence of 15-21 months, or less than two years, under sentencing guidelines. The judge also declined to rule out the possibility of probation.

“The court will consider the defendant’s arguments regarding an appropriate sentence … at the sentencing hearing,” Phillips wrote.

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