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Maximum Sentence Sought For Ex-NGSA Official

October 25, 1999
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Maximum Sentence Sought For Ex-NGSA Official

The U.S. District Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia has asked a D.C. federal judge to sentence Nicholas J. Bush, former president of the Natural Gas Supply Association (NGSA), to a "significant period of incarceration" for embezzling about $3 million from the producer group over a 16-year period.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court, prosecutors have recommended that Bush be imprisoned for a term ranging from 33 to 41 months, which is the maximum term they can seek for Bush's type of crime under the federal sentencing guidelines. He is due to appear before Judge Emmet G. Sullivan today (Oct. 25) for formal sentencing on one count of mail fraud and one count of tax evasion, both felonies. Bush plead guilty to the charges last July and was remanded to a halfway correctional facility in southeast D.C., where he has been ever since. The Bureau of Prisons will decide where Bush will serve his sentence.

For some, 33 to 41 months isn't enough. One Houston natural gas worker urged the court to give Bush "a minimum of ten years before being eligible for parole." Anything less would cause "people like myself [to] be extremely disappointed. He stole so much money, did so much damage.....His crime was not simply stealing from 'big oil,' he stole from the roustabouts, loggers, and other common people who make up the industry," he wrote in a letter to Judge Sullivan. The same sentiment was echoed in a letter by NGSA employees: "Given the damage Nick Bush has caused, leniency seems inappropriate." For the most part, prosecutors and the Judge Sullivan are prevented from seeking and meting out a greater term for Bush under the federal sentencing guidelines, but there have been cases in the past where judges have deviated from the guidelines.

In Bush's case, prosecutors are seeking the maximum term allowed because of the large amount of money he stole from NGSA and because he abused his position of trust to carry out the fraud. They estimate he embezzled more than $2.5 million but less than $5 million in the bogus consulting scheme that he carried out between 1983 and 1999, while Bush and his attorneys contend the amount was considerably less. Prosecutors cited a number of instances in which he abused his position of trust. As a result, his actions have affected "a large number of people both inside and out of NGSA," they said in the court papers addressing the sentencing issue.

"In order to avoid exceeding his budget, which was strained by the large amounts of money that Bush was taking for himself, Bush kept the salaries for the staff artificially low, terminated other employees without cause, and refused to hire replacement workers, adding burdens on existing employees," the court documents said. Former NGSA employees, such as Charlotte LeGates, have related the "personal hardships visited upon them" by Bush, while current employees, such as John Sharp, have written to the court about their "tarnished reputation[s]." LeGates, who had handled public relations at NGSA, told the court that she left the association because "Nick's lies to me became so outrageous and manipulative that I could no longer represent him externally without feeling complicit in them."

In addition to "sullied" personal reputations, Bush caused considerable damage to the association, some of which is irreparable. NGSA "itself has lost [the] financial support of gas companies, through either reduced contributions or refusal to rejoin the association. Bush may have even damaged NGSA's reputation and undermined its effectiveness in its mission to influence legislation," according to the court papers.

Bush's attorneys have asked the court to consider a lesser term, basing the request on his "extraordinary" efforts to make restitution to NGSA. But prosecutors contend Bush's reimbursement hasn't been all that "exceptional." In fact, "it was only after he was sued by NGSA that Bush agreed to return money to the victim.....NGSA obtained a pre-judgment attachment of real estate and an injunction prohibiting Bush from disgorging his assets. Bush then quickly agreed to give NGSA the house on Palisades Lane N.W."

Using proceeds from the sales of two homes, his pension plans and other assets, Bush has agreed to return to NGSA a total of about $874,000, which is less than 30% of the embezzled $3 million.

Prosecutors contend Bush has been unable to accept responsibility for his crime, which they believe further justifies their request for the harsh penalty. Even now, he still continues to deny responsibility for the majority of phony restaurant invoices that he reportedly submitted, and he has refused to admit to any fraud relating to his business expense reports, prosecutors said. They also noted Bush has continued to dip into NGSA resources. "After he entered a plea of guilty to mail fraud and tax evasion and after he was remanded to Hope Village [correctional facility], Bush used NGSA's telephone calling card number to call various people, including his attorneys."

Bush initially told NGSA attorneys that his embezzlement activities started when he needed money to support his "destitute" parents who were in an assisted-care facility. But "the truth [is] he used only 8% of the embezzled money for parental expenses. During this same time, Bush spent over $100,000 in jewelry, including buying one ring from Tiffany's for $29,000, and [he spent] up to $150,000 in furnishing the Palisades Lane house. Thus, he spent as much money on just these two items - jewelry and furniture - as he did on his parents' care," the court papers said.

Bush said he began incurring "substantial costs" for his aging parents in 1991. But prosecutors pointed out that by that time he had been carrying out his embezzlement scheme for eight years and, in fact, had stolen almost $800,000 from NGSA. Even after both of Bush's parents died by 1995, he continued to steal money from the association for another four years, "until he was caught in January 1999."

Susan Parker

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