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Judge postpones sentencing of swindler.

Byline: DIANE DIETZ The Register-Guard

The elderly victims of a Grants Pass man who admitted tricking them out of their motor homes will have to wait another week or two to see him sentenced.

The men and women who, prosecutors say, were charmed out of thousands of dollars by used car salesman Arthur Scott Simpson hobbled out of a U.S. District Court room Thursday while the prosecutor tried to reassure them that justice would eventually be done.

"He's still convicted," U.S. Attorney Chris Cardani said. "He's still in prison and he's still going to be sentenced."

Still, they'd driven hours from Central Point, Talent and Medford to tell the judge how Simpson had robbed them not only of their motor homes but also their confidence that - after more than a half-century of living - they knew how to judge a person.

And they were representative of a larger group of Simpson's victims, ages 70 to 84, from all over Western Oregon, who couldn't make it to court on Thursday.

But Simpson's lawyers convinced Judge Ann Aiken on Thursday that federal prosecutors had broken promises they'd made in late 2000 when Simpson agreed to plead guilty to nine counts of mail fraud and one count of money laundering.

After studying the case law, Aiken ruled in "a close call" that the prosecutor erred by bringing forward new victims and a revised victim count after the plea bargain agreement was signed.

Defense attorneys prevailed with their argument - detailed in court records - that the prosecutor brought forward the witnesses for one reason: To influence the judge to give the defendant a harsher sentence, which prosecutors had pledged not to seek as part of the 2000 agreement.

Federal prosecutor Chris Cardani had maintained that the added victims were part of a "striking pattern" or "spree" that Simpson undertook in 1996 and 1998 when he admittedly swindled at least nine other individuals or couples - and it fell to the prosecutors to simply inform the judge of the full facts.

Aiken sent the case to the court's scheduling committee for transfer to another judge for sentencing, probably in the next two weeks.

That should be the final action in a courtroom saga that's lasted 2 1/2 years, involved dozens of hearings, a demand to withdraw the guilty pleas, the dismissal of two defense attorneys and a pitch by a third defense attorney to get off the case because working with Simpson was damaging his mental health.

The delay was a disappointment to witnesses. Clare Whitley, 78, who prosecutors say lost $4,700 in a deal with Simpson, sat all morning before she slowly maneuvered her walker out of the federal courthouse and faced the long drive back to Talent.

Charles Boyle, 77, who lost $8,000 to Simpson, grew agitated as the proceedings wore on because he said he left his wife - who has Alzheimer's disease - in a motel room.

"I can't stay here for the whole works on account of I can't leave Rosa alone," he said, before fleeing in advance of the judge's ruling.

Rachel Taylor, 76, who prosecutors say lost $6,000, said she hasn't told her children the details of how Simpson got the motor home that she and her husband had loved to camp in up until he died.

The retired seamstress and business owner said she was just too embarrassed to talk about it. "You think you've got more sense than that," she said.

But the victims agreed, Simpson was an extraordinarily smooth talker. He's a good looking guy, 5-foot-11, with dark hair and eyes and a cleft chin - just like an old-fashioned movie star.

He'd show up in a cowboy hat and polished boots and a warm, generous manner, the victims said. It was just like he'd put you in a trance, they said.

When Simpson showed up at Taylor's home in a Central Point mobile home park, he was answering an ad she'd taken out in the Medford Mail Tribune to sell the mobile home - and he seemed, also, like the answer to her prayers.

She wanted to unload the 21-foot Itasca because, with her husband gone, she had no one to drive. She also needed the proceeds to pay for dental work, which Medicare doesn't cover.

The first day, Simpson spent three or four hours with her, she said. He recommended a dentist, fixed a lamp, showed pictures of his children and generally made her feel good. "It was like you were the only person in the world," she said.

At Boyle's house, Simpson talked firefighting and said he made big money by jobbing out his water truck during forest fires. Boyle, a retired heavy equipment operator, believed him because he knew of men who got rich that way.

"I guess he know how to size everybody up," Boyle said.

Simpson would get out a yellow legal pad, write out the deal replete with technical sales lingo.

He'd give the parties to his admittedly crooked deals a big down payment, and then he'd promise to pay the rest later. Only, the rest of the money never came.

He'd usually resell the motor home later in the week, pocket the profits - and peter off on payments to the elderly couples he swindled.

Why'd he do it?

One reason, said McMinnville Police Officer Cully Desmond, who broke the case in 1998.

Waiting on a courtroom bench Thursday, Desmond pointed to a court document calculating Simpson's profit on the deals: $189,729.99.

But the defense - while admitting that Simpson lied to seal some of the deals - painted a far different picture of the defendant as a honest but troubled independent used car salesman.

His troubles, defense attorneys wrote in court documents, stemmed from his "horrific" upbringing on a 20-acre ranch on Summit Loop Road, six miles out of the Grants Pass city limits.

He was the youngest child of a physically abusive ex-policeman, who died when Simpson was just 12 years old, the court records state.

But Simpson overcame his difficult beginnings, largely on his natural likability, and supported himself primarily through used car sales for the past 18 years, court records and family said.

During most of that time he lived with Katherine Simpson, his common law wife, and the couple had five children - with the last born after Simpson was jailed in 2001.

He was a family man, said Dave Morton, a business associate from Salem, who attended the hearing to testify on Simpson's behalf. If they were on the road, Simpson always pulled off before the kids' 8 p.m. bedtime to call, Morton said.

Simpson's mother, Rose, said she had so many good things to say about her son they would "fill that book," she said, indicating a reporter's note pad.

"I've never really met anybody - except the prosecutor here - who doesn't like him. The prosecutor tries to make him out as such a villain," she said. "They don't know who's sitting there."

Simpson is well known and well regarded in the realm of used car dealers in Washington, Oregon and California, Morton said. He operated a used car lot along West Seventh Avenue in Eugene in the late 1990s, Morton said.

"He's not a bragger; most people are stuck on themselves, and he wasn't that way," Morton said. "He was just an all-around decent guy."

After the judge made her ruling, Simpson stood in his dark green jail jump suit, turned to the spectator benches and flashed his mother a wink and a smile.

At the next sentencing hearing, the judge will have to weigh the defense's argument that Simpson should serve less than three years because Simpson takes responsibility for his crimes.

A sentencing report recommended that he serve more like six years.

The people swindled by Simpson said he should be imprisoned a good long time - so maybe he won't be so good looking and so effective at

con games when he gets out.

"Six years isn't a long time," Taylor said.

"A long time to me is 20 years at least," Boyle said.

CAPTION(S):

Rachel Taylor, 76, of Central Point, who prosecutors say lost $6,000 after Arthur Scott Simpson tricked her out of a motor home, said she was just too embarrassed to talk about it. "You think you've got more sense than that," she said. BRIAN DAVIES / The Register-Guard
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Title Annotation:Crime: Defense attorneys say federal prosecutors violated a plea bargain struck in 2000.; Courts
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 28, 2002
Words:1393
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