Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Did Judge McKenna Deliver a Message?

When Anne Arundel County Judge John McKenna sentenced locksmith Joseph Horton to sixty days in county jail, he said he wanted to set example to those who may consider scamming others. Horton, who immediately paid an appeal bond to delay incarceration, got convicted of using the credit card of another, theft over $1000, and identity fraud. Specifically, he quoted an elderly woman one price and then tripled it upon repair. When she refused to authorize that amount on her credit card, Horton forged her signature. Notably, he also stands accused of inflating prices on other customers as well as lying to people regarding his standing in the trade.

In addition to the judgment in court, the Maryland State Attorney General’s office ordered Horton to repay $132,000 in restitution and $274,800 in civil penalties. No doubt, the criminal justice system recognized the downright criminal behavior displayed by Horton. Granted, his highly respected defense attorney correctly pointed out that no criminal charges ensued as a result of most of these allegations.

Still, Horton exploited people at a vulnerable time. When someone inadvertently locks themselves out of their automobile or home, they have little other choice than to break a window or call a locksmith. When dealing with Horton, customers stood better off shattering glass to solve their problem.

Luckily, government entities have mechanisms to combat unfair trade practices such as price gouging. Regardless, by the time these bodies can act, multiple customers have already overpaid the offended party. In turn, it’s often difficult to recover the money via restitution. Even the defense attorney conceded he does not know how Horton will repay the $400,000 in fines and penalties.

Really, sixty days in jail does not equate to the aggravation suffered by the victims of Horton. If Judge McKenna truly wanted to send a message, he would have given a harsher sentence on a felony that calls for up to 15 years in a state prison.

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