Ex-judge Stephen Mirretti gets 5 years for probation violation

  I have mixed feelings about this case.

On one hand it seems like a much too severe and draconian sentence for the minor crime of skipping out of probation two months early to sentence the guy to 5 years in prison. Also it seems like a waste of the taxpayer’s money to jail the guy for 5 more years too.

The guy didn’t murder anybody, steal any money or even commit a victimless crime like gambling or smoking pot. He forgot to show up to his probation officers office for two months. I don’t think he deserves 5 years in jail for that.

On the other hand from the stand point a citizen who has been screwed by the government this guy is a real crook. While at the time he was a judge and sentencing people to jail he was busy ripping the citizens off he was serving for $2 million. If a private citizen shot the guy in the back of the head to make him pay for his crimes I wouldn’t have had a problem with that. But for the government to put him in jail for 5 years for skipping out on two months of probation I think that is a harsh, evil, draconian sentence.


September 8, 2007 - 5:46AM

Ex-judge gets 5 years for probation violation

Gary Grado, Tribune

Former Tempe judge Stephen Mirretti begged for a second chance Friday, but he got five years in the penitentiary instead.

Mirretti, who went to prison in 1996 for swindling Tempe and private investors out of nearly $2 million to fund a gambling habit, fumbled for words when he tried to explain to Judge Suzanne Dallimore why he skipped out on probation just two months before it was to end.

He was clear in his pleas for mercy, though.

“No one who has appeared before you needed a second chance more than I do,” said Mirretti, 56. “If I go back to prison, my life is over.”

His face reddened as his expression shifted from disbelief to anguish when Dallimore refused to put him back on probation.

Mirretti’s inability to control his gambling was the source of his downfall to convicted felon from being Tempe’s top municipal judge.

He admitted in 1994 that he bankrolled his gambling by accepting bribes and providing kickbacks to court contractors.

At the time he was a treasured city employee and considered by state court administrators as a judge with excellent business skills.

Training for new judges was once held at Tempe Municipal Court to showcase how he operated, court records show.

Judge Ron Reinstein sentenced him to eight years in prison and five years probation in February 1996 after he pleaded guilty to theft, bribery and conspiracy charges. Five others also pleaded guilty.

Mirretti was released on parole in November 1999 and began his probation in 2002. But he said in court Friday that gambling had nothing to do with his current problems.

“I haven’t placed a wager since March 4, 1994,” he said.

He apologized to Dallimore for his inability to explain why he missed probation sessions, but he seemed to say he had trouble coping with financial and emotional problems.

His attorney, Hilary Berko, said he quit taking medication for his diagnosed attention deficit disorder and was unable to cope with stress in his life.

His probation officer wrote in court documents that he quit reporting in October 2006.

Mesa police stopped Mirretti on Aug. 31 for a traffic violation and arrested him on a probation violation warrant.

“There’s something else going on up there, but the courts don’t see it,” said Don Hulen, a longtime friend of Mirretti’s and director of the Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling.

Hulen, who asked Dallimore to get his friend mental health treatment instead of sending him to prison, has stood by Mirretti since his 1994 indictment and found him counseling and jobs.

“Steve was and is a very sick guy,” Hulen said. “He blew it, he hurt himself, but really hurt his family and kids.”

Mirretti is divorced from the mother of his three children who range in age from 14 to 21.

Mitch Kaufman, who recently befriended Mirretti, was exasperated by what he believes is a harsh sentence and the apparent speed and lack of due process with which it was done.

“They just slapped him down like a thug who committed murder,” Kaufman said. He added, “He has a kind heart. He’s very remorseful about his part in the sadness he’s brought.”

Mirretti’s first problem with gambling came when he lost his graduation money in a poker game at age 16. A psychiatrist diagnosed him in 1994 as a compulsive gambler at age 44.

Bobbe McGinley, clinical director and CEO of ACT Counseling Education in Mesa, said a compulsive gambler is someone who continues to gamble despite its adverse effects.

McGinley, who has no involvement in the case, said there are two types of compulsive gamblers: escape and action.

Escape gamblers are mesmerized by such games as video poker, slot machines and video keno.

Action gamblers see their gambling as a matter of skill and play cards and bet on sports and dog and horse racing, McGinley said.

Both types are usually intelligent and successful in life.

“But it just becomes all-consuming,” McGinley said.

Hulen characterized Mirretti as an action gambler, and Mirretti’s own words from a 1996 letter to Reinstein seem to confirm that.

“I literally consumed hours and hours of work time thinking about gambling, raising money to gamble, practicing strategies on the computer and so on, ad infinitum,” he wrote.

McGinley said action gamblers chase their losses, which means they have a compulsion to win back their losses.

They are treatable, but it usually takes a “blinding or startling” consequence before they are ready to turn their lives around.

And they have to recognize that they compromised their values and moral standards, McGinley said.

“I corrupted my judicial position and virtually every ethical obligation I had sworn to uphold as a lawyer and a judge,” Mirretti said.