In the lead-up to Thad Bingham's sentencing on a single felony count of violating the Lacey Act, we lamented that his plea deal called for him to be sentenced on the low end of federal sentencing guidelines.
We thought that meant he could get as little as six months in prison. Turns out, he'll serve no time behind bars at all. Instead he was sentenced Tuesday to three years probation and $55,100 in restitution and fines.
We're normally loath to second-guess outcomes of our criminal justice system, but a short prison sentence seemed appropriate in this case — for reasons that came up during his sentencing.
As a federal prosecutor pointed out, Bingham had two prior convictions for poaching. The second conviction occurred when he was employed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as a biologist. After his guilty plea in May, he's since lost his job at the service's Horsethief Canyon Native Fish Facility Ponds near Fruita.
His lawyer argued that Bingham had already "paid the ultimate price" in losing his job, his ability to hunt, his right to own firearms and now faces the prospect of never working in his chosen field again.
It reminds us of the Abraham Lincoln quote: "Hypocrite: The man who murdered his parents, and then pleaded for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan."
Losing his job should have been the least of Bingham's consequences. We've already questioned how he kept the job to commit a third wildlife-related crime.
As tough as wildlife agencies are on poachers in Colorado, shouldn't a person who is paid in a wildlife-protecton capacity be held to the highest standard possible?
U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger acknowledged Bingham's actions had earned the public's contempt.
"Probably part of the reason there has been so much attention to this case is it's particularly offensive to the public when someone works for the government and is charged with enforcing federal law, and he himself doesn't comply with the law," Krieger said. "That creates an impression that he's above the law, that he only has to follow the law when it is convenient. In our country, no one is above the law."
Probation and a fine? That doesn't seem to drive the message home that no one is above the law. While Bingham's lawyer argued that he's a "broken man," he's certainly not broke. With more than $1 million in assets, the $55,000 in fines and restitution doesn't seem particularly daunting, therefore, not very punishing. A prison sentence, no matter how short, would have made his punishment more palatable.
For someone who faced as much as 18 months in prison, Bingham should consider himself lucky that the judge seemed to factor in the humiliation he's suffered in the press and on social media.
The money from his fine and restitution, at least, is to go to Colorado Operation Game Thief and the Lacey Act Reward Fund, both of which pay rewards to whistleblowers who report poaching and other wildlife crimes.