John S. Carter was one of the biggest white-collar criminals in Philadelphia history, systematically looting the Independence Seaport Museum of $1.5 million to support a lavish blue-blood lifestyle of exquisite boats, pricey paintings, expensive clothes, and elegant residences.
After he pleaded guilty, a federal judge handed him a stiff sentence: 15 years in prison, a punishment tougher than that recently given to some of Philadelphia’s corrupt politicians.
Yesterday, a new defense lawyer for Carter, the disgraced former president of the Independence Seaport Museum on Penn’s Landing, tried to persuade an appellate panel that the sentence was unfairly harsh.
But a prosecutor said Carter had agreed to waive his appellate rights as part of his plea deal - and thus had no right to even be in court.
The defense lawyer, James L. Sultan, who traveled from Boston for the hearing in Philadelphia before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, suggested that Carter should have received a sentence of no more than eight years.
Sultan told the judges that Carter struck an unfairly one-sided bargain with the government in 2007 when he agreed to plead guilty.
“This was not an agreement,” Sultan wrote in an pleading. “It was a unilateral surrender.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney John J. Pease, however, said Carter had only himself to blame for his long prison term. Pease said the government could have indicted Carter on scores of charges, but instead agreed that Carter need only plead guilty to one count of ripping off the museum, a second count of tax evasion, and a third count of trying to steal from a museum insurance policy.
According to Pease, Carter dug a hole for himself by trying to take that insurance policy - after his then-lawyer had begun plea talks with prosecutors.
Carter forged the names of two Independence Seaport board members in order to gain control of the $1 million policy. That action, Pease said, helped persuade the judge to lower the boom on Carter.
Sultan argued that Carter never cashed in the policy.
During the March 23 hearing, U.S. District Judge Harold Ackerman noted that Carter had said in court that he had read his plea agreement carefully, that he trusted his lawyer, and that he was aware he was giving up his right to appeal. “What are we doing here, Mr. Sultan?” the judge asked rhetorically.
The panel did not rule immediately on the motion. Such appeals usually take months to be decided.
Now 58, Carter had a heart attack in 2007 shortly before his sentencing. He is serving his time at a federal medical prison in Massachusetts 30 miles from Boston.
Carter headed the Seaport Museum for 17 years. He looted it with abandon, even though he was paid more than $300,000 a year at his peak - more than the head of the Philadelphia Museum of Art - and lived free in a museum-owned home in Society Hill.
His thievery included falsifying invoices to stick the museum with the bills for $350,000 in improvements to his home in Cape Cod, including a new carriage house. He concealed personal buys as business expenses, including $50,000 worth of electronic equipment; $25,000 in clothes from top stores; and $17,000 in paintings and other art. He also spent $900,000 worth of museum money to give himself three boats - a powerboat and two sailboats - and make repairs to them.
Source: Museum Security Network