Did the billionaire creator of Beanie Babies get off too easy when a federal judge sentenced him earlier this year to community service but no prison time for hiding at least $25 million from U.S. tax authorities in Swiss bank accounts?
That's the question a three-judge appellate panel at the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago will consider Wednesday as it hears arguments from prosecutors who say Ty Warner's punishment was way too lenient and from defense attorneys who say it was just right.
At Warner's January sentencing, prosecutors asked that he spend at least a year behind bars. Instead, Judge Charles Kocoras heaped praise on Warner for his charitable giving, declaring society was better served by letting the suburban Chicago businessman go free.
"Mr. Warner's private acts of kindness, generosity, and benevolence are overwhelming," Kocoras told the hearing. In addition to two years' probation, the sentencing judge ordered Warner to do 500 hours of community service.
Earlier, Warner agreed to pay $27 million in back taxes and interest, and a civil penalty of more than $53 million While prosecutors rarely appeal sentences, they have argued that the inadvertent message sent by the lower court judge to the public at large was that there are different standards of justice for the rich and the poor.
Since Warner's sentencing hearing, some tax attorneys in separate cases have pointed to Warner's light punishment as a reason why their own clients -- who concealed a fraction of the money Warner concealed from the IRS -- should also not go to prison.