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Last week, Mona Lisa Gaffney appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema to be sentenced for smuggling heroin and cash into the District’s Lorton correctional complex, where her brother, Keith, was an inmate (see “House of Pain,” 9/26). Dressed in wash-faded prison blues over gray sweats, Mona Lisa Gaffney, who was convicted in July, listened as Brinkema recited the holes in the case against her.
At trial, the judge noted, prosecutors had presented no hard evidencesuch as money, assets, or drugsto build its case that Mona Lisa and her brother ran a lucrative cellblock drug trade. And Brinkema pointed out that the prosecution had used “mere surmise or estimation” to arrive at the quantity of heroin Mona Lisa had smuggled into the prison. Furthermore, she pointed out that Gaffney didn’t have the money to pay for her own attorney and that there was “not any evidence of significant financial gain.”
“She doesn’t have the gold necklaces that Keith Gaffney had,” Brinkema said, referring to the wealth that Keith amassed with his sister’s assistance. “Her motive appears to be love foror misplaced love forher brother,” concluded the judge.
After articulating the case for leniency, Brinkema handed down the sentence: 17 and a half years in federal prison.
In a pre-sentencing statement, Mona Lisa had attempted to wash her hands of her crimes. “This is really my brother’s case,” she said. “Unfortunately, being his sister, I’m looked upon as a partner in crime instead of a loyal sister visiting him to maintain a normal family situation.” She argued that her family loyalty had been “whitewashed” by the prosecution.
An ad hoc group of Mona Lisa supporters had also lobbied the judge on her behalf, arguing that the all-white jury had been biased against the defendant and that the prosecution had unfairly targeted Mona Lisa because she beseeched “criminal justice reform groups” to take up her brother’s cause. But the group, known as the Mona Lisa Gaffney Defense Committee, undercut its own campaign by sending form letters to Brinkema. “I read everything that comes to my chambers,” said Brinkema, “but not when the letters don’t vary from one another. I don’t appreciate form letters.”
Mona Lisa had also aired procedural gripes, lamenting that Lorton visitor recordswhich she claimed would show she hadn’t made as many visits as the prosecution claimedcould not be subpoenaed. She also complained that her brother had not been subpoenaed as part of the defense’s effort to discredit the witnesses against her.
“He knows these people,” she told Brinkema, “and he knows Lorton.”
“Ms. Gaffney,” replied Brinkema, “although you and your supporters believe that Keith Gaffney did nothing wrong, I am convinced he was running a major drug conspiracy inside Lorton and that he could not have run this criminal enterprise without your assistance.” Keith was convicted in 1995 of running a heroin ring inside Lorton’s maximum- and medium-security facilities. He is now serving a life sentence without parole.
Mona Lisa’s 17-and-a-half-year sentence is roughly halfway between the maximum and minimum prison terms outlined in the federal sentencing guidelines for her offenses.
“No matter what sentence you get,” Brinkema told Mona Lisa, “you’ll be in your 60s” upon release. CP