Parish might be looking at 15 1/2 years

Al Parish

Former prosecutor bases estimate on federal guidelines

Failed investment guru Al Parish probably is looking at a jail term of about 15 1/2 years, a former federal prosecutor knowledgeable with the federal government's sentencing guidelines said Wednesday.

Miller Shealy, now a professor at the Charleston School of Law, said a conservative estimate for Parish's fraud conviction would begin in the 15-year range. But the former Charleston Southern University economist could get up to 20 years as well, he said.

Parish, 50, is expected to formally change his plea to guilty Friday to two counts of mail and wire fraud and one count of providing false information to authorities covering the collapse of his empire of unregistered investment "pools." He likely will be sentenced 45 to 60 days later.

Shealy has no specific information on Parish's fraud case, or the evidence exclusively known by the government, but he spent more than 10 years as a criminal prosecutor in Charleston.

"For a person like Al Parish, 15 1/2 years is not a slap on the wrist," he said. Time in a federal jail "is not a picnic."

Because the guidelines are advisory, not mandatory, the 15 years is more of a starting point, he said. Parish's actual incarceration range could move up or down, depending on a variety of factors. Acceptance of responsibility for his actions, his cooperation with the government and the testimony of his victims are just a few factors that will be considered.

The judge also can take into account Parish's "relevant conduct" surrounding the depth and severity of his investment scheme.

Investigators have characterized Parish's pool offerings as a form of a Ponzi scheme in which money taken from some investors was used to pay off the gains of others.

Parish originally was charged with

11 criminal counts, but eight are being dropped in the plea deal. The jail time Parish faces wasn't likely to have changed as a result of the reduction in charges, some say.

Shealy said his calculations are downwardly conservative because the sentencing guidelines fall into ranges covering the dollar amount of losses registered and the number of victims involved.

Facts also can be developed or contested during the sentencing phase, which can affect the final jail time, he said. Additionally, Parish will be allowed to address the court.

Investigators believe as many as 460 investors were taken in by Parish and suffered up to $90 million in losses.