Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Obama commutes life sentence of ‘nonviolent’ drug dealer charged with death threat
MADISON, Wis. — The federal prison system is full of so-called nonviolent offenders.
Stephen Donovan isn’t one of them.
Or at least he’s not the unfortunate, incarcerated soul the mainstream media and Obama administration make him out to be.
Donovan, 58, a former Oak Creek drag racer, was sentenced in 1992 to life in prison for his involvement in a cocaine distribution ring run by his younger brother. He now expects be a free man by early November.
Last week, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of Donovan and 45 other drug offenders, declaring the federal inmates were not “hardened criminals” and their sentences exceeded their crimes.
“Their punishments didn’t fit the crime. And if they’d been sentenced under today’s laws, nearly all of them would’ve already served their time,” Obama said.
Missing from Obama’s message and coverage of the president’s expanding clemency program is the fact Donovan was charged in December 1991 with “threatening to kill a witness, who was sent to testify against him in his federal drug trial.”
That information was included in a 1992 Milwaukee Sentinel story noting Donovan was the first person in the Milwaukee area sentenced to life in prison under federal mandatory sentencing guidelines.
Interestingly, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story on the clemency directive noted nothing from the old Sentinel archives about Donovan’s apparent violent behavior.
Instead, the Journal Sentinel story opened by noting it “took more than 20 years, but … the federal government — or at least President Barack Obama — agreed with Stephen Donovan that his life sentence for selling cocaine was too harsh.”
State Rep. Mandela Barnes, D-Milwaukee, praised Donovan’s release.
“I think that certain things should have a penalty, but a life sentence and these extended sentences for nonviolent offenses are absolutely not the way to go,” Barnes said last week on the Devil’s Advocate radio show. “I think it was a proper move by the president. More power to him.”
During his unsuccessful appeal in 1994, Donovan told a federal judge he was a “scapegoat in this case” and it is “unconstitutional to give someone a life sentence for a crime that’s not violent.”
While the drug dealer was caught up in a mandatory sentencing system that penalized him for two previous convictions on intent to deliver marijuana, the agent that oversaw the Milwaukee office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency at the time says violence permeates such drug operations.
“It’s one thing to kill someone, but to threaten them and to destroy their lives, that’s almost the same thing,” Jerry “Kelly” Snyder, a retired federal agent with more than 25 years in law enforcement, told Wisconsin Watchdog. “My recollection of the story behind (Donovan) is that there were a lot of bad actors involved” in this drug operation.
Indeed there were.
As many as 17 people had been arrested in connection with the case at the time of Donovan’s sentencing. Federal authorities testified that the drug operation handled some 50 kilograms, more than 110 pounds worth of cocaine, with an estimated street value at the time exceeding $300,000. The dealers used the money to finance race cars.
“We’re talking about massive quantities here. It wasn’t a couple pounds here or there,” Snyder recalled.
Court records show Donovan’s offenses included conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, interstate travel to promote distribution of cocaine (mostly in Florida and Illinois), and possession with intent to distribute cocaine in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
At Donovan’s appeal, the prosecutor noted “nonviolent” illegal drug sales often leave violence and destruction in their wake. It certainly did in the case of the drag racer turned dealer.