It likely will not matter if Paul Lindemann drives to federal court in Columbia on Monday morning.
The former York County Council member once drove to a council meeting even though his license had been suspended. On Monday, he might not get to drive home.
He is being sentenced for a federal felony, conspiracy to commit application fraud. Three legal experts expect Lindemann will be sentenced to a prison term of anywhere from several months to more than two years.
The experts predict that Lindemann, once a golden boy of York County politics, a Republican star in the making, will stand beside his federal public defender - a lawyer paid for by taxpayers - and receive a federal prison term for claiming he made almost $36,000 a month to get a loan of almost a million dollars. The loan was for a house in Tega Cay, with plans to flip the house and then make a bunch of money.
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"There is no question he could get jail time - and probably will," said Kenneth W. Gaines, law professor at the University of South Carolina and an expert in criminal law. "The crime is one thing. It was a lot of money. Almost a million dollars - that is not chicken feed. He also was a person in a public position."
There is no allegation that Lindemann misused any public money. But the crime happened while he was a county councilman, overseeing a public budget of tens of millions of dollars. He was an elected official, a councilman talking so often about fiscal responsibility, about not spending money people don't have, all things politicians - especially Republicans - love to talk about.
Lindemann wanted to use a bank's money to make money selling that house. When he was caught, he pleaded poverty and got the rest of us to pay his legal bills.
Gaines, the law professor, said a sentence of a year or two is probably what should be expected.
Debra Gammons, a Charleston School of Law professor, said she would expect Lindemann will receive a sentence of at least nine months, but not much more than a year.
"He pleaded guilty to a fraud," Gammons said. "That is a serious crime in the eyes of the court."
Lindemann, under federal guidelines, will get credit for not having any violent criminal convictions and for pleading guilty, say the experts and area lawyers. He also cooperated with the FBI when the investigation started.
Miller Shealy, a former federal prosecutor who teaches criminal law at the Charleston law school, put it bluntly: "This looks like he is looking at jail time. Almost a million dollars - that's a lot of money. And in this day and time, mortgage fraud is a serious offense. He lied to get the big money."
Lindemann's criminal history and the severity of the crime puts his likely range under federal sentencing guidelines at between 24 and 33 months in prison, Shealy said, but guidelines are no longer mandatory.
The mortgage fraud part of the case could be Lindemann's undoing with prosecutors.
In October, a pair of Fort Mill businessmen received sentences in federal court of between a year and two years for similar crimes. Bill Nettles, the U.S. Attorney, issued the following statement after that sentencing:
"Mortgage fraud such as that committed by this defendant contributed to the biggest economic crisis that many of us have ever seen," Nettles said. "The sentence handed down today rightfully punished the defendant for his actions while letting others know that such conduct will be vigorously prosecuted."
It is unclear what sentence the U.S. Attorney's office will ask for Monday before federal Judge Cameron Currie. John Potterfield, the assistant U.S. Attorney handling the case, declined to comment about sentencing or anything else.
"The U.S. Attorney will not back down on mortgage fraud," said Shealy, the former federal prosecutor. "Not in this day and age when mortgage fraud has hurt so many people."
Lindemann's public defender, Langdon Long, could not be reached for comment.
But nobody needs lawyers to say that this is the kind of economic scheming that sent America into its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
"The world now knows that mortgage fraud has hurt the country," said Shealy, the law professor. "Mortgage fraud is a serious crime."
Politicians of all parties all wailed for the past four years at the working people who got mortgages they could not pay for that spun the housing market and country into recession. Everybody pointed at banks and big shots, at Wall Street, who gave money to almost anybody with a pulse, although the loans could not be paid back because income did not match payments.
The question is what Cameron Currie, federal judge, will do Monday.
What will she do to a guy who was a smiling, quick-with-a-handshake politician who claimed to be rich and was really so poor he needed a public defender?
If Lindemann is sentenced to prison, it is unclear whether he will go straight to jail, the experts say. White-collar criminals often get to leave and arrange lives before being given a date to report to federal prison.
But Shealy, the law school professor and former federal prosecutor, said that Lindemann has had more than two months to get his affairs in order.
Several York County lawyers with federal court experience, and all three law professors, said that Currie, the judge, is a no-nonsense jurist who does not have much patience for anyone convicted of a crime, let alone financial crimes.
Currie will look at a man who was a public figure, who claimed to have so much money and always drove luxury vehicles whether he had a license or not.
Shealy, the law school professor and former federal prosecutor, said that if he were Lindemann's lawyer, he would advise him: "Pack your toothbrush."