Two Madison County tax buyers who were part of a bid-rigging scheme got harsher-than-recommended prison sentences on Wednesday, but their victims no doubt wish some cold, hard cash went along with it.
U.S. District Judge David Herndon bemoaned the harm John Vassen and Scott McLean did to thousands of taxpayers. People who were already down on their luck had to pay 18 percent rates to the tax buyers; a fair tax sale would have resulted in much lower rates. John O'Gara, Vassen's attorney, characterized it as "screwing people at tax sales."
All this explains why Herndon gave Vassen a two-year sentence and McLean 18 months even though federal guidelines called for sentences of 10 to 16 months. But their victims won't get any financial restitution. Herndon agreed with prosecutors months ago that it would be just too hard to calculate individual losses.
That wrong-headed decision is even harder to take knowing just how much the tax buyers benefited from the scheme. Vassen made about $700,000 and McLean about $450,000. Their fines? Just $25,000 apiece.
They know how much the tax buyers made and who got "screwed." Why not make the tax buyers forfeit their ill-gotten gains and split it among the victims?
Even with the longer prison sentences, this doesn't feel like justice.