A former New Orleans pastor who embezzled nearly $1 million in disaster relief aid in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has asked a federal judge to shorten his prison sentence by several years.
The Rev. Toris Young, who has convictions in three federal cases and has been behind bars about five years, also is lobbying U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to recommend he be transferred to a halfway house or home detention for the rest of his sentence.
Young’s attorney, Vinny Mosca, said Young deserves recognition for good behavior in prison and the assistance he provided authorities in a racketeering case involving gang and drug activity.
New court documents indicate Young already had 27 months knocked off his sentence late last year — a previously unreported development that appears to have been placed under seal in the court record.
The drug case involved “individuals who were charged with various crimes and prosecuted,” Mosca said in a telephone interview. Young didn’t testify, Mosca added, but “was able to provide some information based on what other people had told him” behind bars.
“Toris is trying to take advantage of current laws which provide for shorter sentences for inmates with good disciplinary records and who have assisted the government in the investigation of other cases,” Mosca said. “There’s some debate as to whether or not the government memorialized all of his cooperation.”
Federal prosecutors have opposed Young’s requests, saying a hearing set for next week is not necessary and that Young missed procedural deadlines for filing such a motion. They also said it’s up to the Bureau of Prisons, not the judge, to decide whether a prisoner should be placed in a halfway house.
While Young pointed to a bevy of educational courses he’s completed behind bars in support of his request, prosecutors noted that he took nearly two dozen such classes during a previous stint in federal prison.
“He has a continuous and persistent pattern of similar illegal behavior,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Loan “Mimi” Nguyen wrote in a court filing. “Despite any good behavior he has demonstrated recently … Young’s extensive criminal history, beginning in 1990, is a more reliable indicator of (the) likelihood that he will engage in future criminal conduct.”
Young pleaded guilty in 2012 to mail fraud and theft of government funds. The charges stemmed from a scheme after the storm in which Young received nearly $1 million in government aid to rebuild the Bible Way Baptist Church in Hollygrove, where he served as pastor. In applying for the funds from the U.S. Small Business Administration, he agreed the proceeds would be used only to reconstruct the church on Joliet Street. Instead, prosecutors said, he spent the money on jewelry, vehicles, real estate, designer clothes and credit card debt.
Young continued receiving the federal funds after the initial disbursements by submitting fraudulent invoices, canceled checks and other forged documentation. His cover was blown by an appraisal of the church property, ordered by the Small Business Administration in 2009, that revealed “the parcel was vacant with overgrown grass,” according to court documents.
Young’s guilty plea followed a prior conviction for bank fraud and passing forged money orders in a separate federal case in Jackson, Mississippi, and resulted in the revocation of his sentence in a 2005 case in New Orleans in which he admitted to identity theft and access device fraud.
He initially received a 10-year sentence for the post-Katrina embezzlement case, and Barbier ordered the term be served consecutively to his sentences in the prior two federal cases, which together totaled more than four years. In all, then, Young faced 14 years in prison before receiving the two-year reduction at the end of last year in exchange for his cooperation.
Young is asking Barbier to set his three prison terms to run concurrently, claiming it wasn’t clear when the judge amended his sentence last year whether the terms should be served consecutively or at the same time.
Young also has been ordered to pay $963,900 restitution.
Young has long been at the center of controversy and previously garnered headlines for attempting to recall former U.S. Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao.
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