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Rice sentenced in Net sex case

January 13, 2000|By JULIE E. GREENE

ROANOKE, Va. - Martinsburg, W.Va., businessman Thomas D. Rice was sentenced in U.S. District Court Thursday to serve five years and three months in a federal penitentiary for crossing state lines to have sex with a "boy" he met on the Internet.

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"I accept total responsibility for this crime. I was plain stupid and reckless," Rice told the court in his first public statement since being arrested on Feb. 20, 1999.

After his release, at which point Rice would be 64 years old, he would be under supervised release for three years, said U.S. District Court Chief Judge Samuel G. Wilson. Rice is not eligible for parole.

Rice, who used a computer in his Martinsburg home to contact what turned out to be a sheriff's deputy posing as an underage boy, is not allowed to have computer equipment or child pornography while in prison or afterward.

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Rice's attorney, Randy Cargill, said Rice would appeal the sentence. He had no further comment.

Rice, 59, pleaded guilty Nov. 1, 1999, to traveling in interstate commerce with the intent to engage in sexual relations with an individual under the age of 18.

Rice drove 190 miles from Martinsburg to Bedford County, Va., after arranging a meeting over the Internet with a sheriff's deputy posing as a 13-year-old boy. He was arrested Feb. 20 at an elementary school in Bedford County, where the two had arranged to meet.

The case was later transferred to federal court.

"The harm and shame that I have caused my family, my friends and some very fine present and former public officers is something that I will regret the rest of my life," Rice said, reading from a yellow legal pad.

"I see no reason to have their kindness for me cause them more pain by their public association with me and this crime. I owe them all my heartfelt thanks and my apologies," Rice said.

Through the opportunities he had to serve his community, state and country, Rice said he hoped his contributions "made life better for my fellow citizens, especially my fellow West Virginians."

Rice was wearing prison garb - a T-shirt, blue collarless shirt and blue pants - and wire-rimmed glasses.

When he was first brought out and his handcuffs removed, Rice appeared in good spirits, chatting with his attorney and rocking back and forth in his chair.

After several delays and just before the approximately one hour hearing began, Rice became more reserved.

Before Wilson sentenced Rice, Cargill asked the judge to take into consideration Rice's public service record, his severe depression at the time of the crime, his confession, how Rice sought therapy after he was released on bond, and the face he pleaded guilty.

"This is something that's totally out of character for this man," Cargill said.

According to court records, Rice received a clinical diagnosis of major depression in partial remission as listed in an April 29, 1999, draft of an evaluation report from the Baltimore-based National Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma.

The report states no evidence was found that Rice "has any pedophile attraction nor that he is in any way predatory."

Rice may have been "mildly delirious" because of the "'cocktail of drugs'" he was on and his physical illness at the time, the report states.

The doctors who issued the draft report did not have access to the transcripts of the telephone calls and e-mails between Rice and the "boy," according to court records and Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony P. Giorno.

Rice had been an aide to former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton. He resigned as general manager of the Blue Ridge Outlet Center in Martinsburg days after his arrest.

Before pronouncing sentence Wilson said he took into account Rice's plea and that he accepted responsibility for his actions.

In a presentencing report a probation officer recommended Wilson use sentencing guidelines for statutory rape and sentence Rice to between 12 and 18 months in prison.

But Giorno argued that Rice's crime was closer to sexual abuse than to statutory rape.

This was no 20-year-old man crossing state lines to have sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend, Giorno said, adding that sodomy is illegal in Virginia.

Rice portrayed himself as a "father figure" and sexual mentor in correspondence with the "boy," Giorno said.

Wilson said he decided to use the guidelines for sexual abuse, providing a range of 63 to 78 months in a federal penitentiary, and eventually handed down the lower 63-month sentence.

Rice's 1994 Cadillac SLS was forfeited Nov. 1 after Rice pleaded guilty, but Giorno said Rice's computer was still at his Martinsburg home.

Rice told the court that once he is released he intends to rebuild his life out of the public spotlight, but not in Martinsburg. He said he'd like to live in transitional housing after his release.

Rice was handcuffed and escorted by U.S. marshals back to the Roanoke City Jail pending a decision on where he will serve his time.

Wilson said he would recommend Rice serve his sentence at the federal penitentiary in Cumberland, Md. Rice had asked to be sent there because it is the federal prison closest to his home.

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