A 64-year-old Menlo Park man who prosecutors claim is a career con artist who once tried to sell a man the Golden State Warriors basketball team, but whom his attorney says has reformed himself and dedicated his life to serving the community, avoided prison Nov. 9 at his sentencing in Redwood City for passing bad checks in 2004.
A San Mateo County jury in June convicted Roger Steven Miller of passing fraudulent checks to banks in Menlo Park and San Jose totaling about $14,000, according to the district attorney's office.
Mr. Miller was sentenced to three years' probation on Nov. 9 in San Mateo County Superior Court after Judge Joseph Scott agreed with Mr. Miller's attorney that prison was no place for a man who suffers from ill health and is now actively engaged in volunteer work.
Mr. Miller, who had been out of custody since posting bail in January 2005, ambled in to the courtroom with the help of a wooden cane, chatting amiably with police and his attorney, Charles J. Smith.
Mr. Smith said Mr. Miller paid back the money he owed the banks, and had been doing volunteer work with sick children at Stanford University's Ronald McDonald House and with seniors at the Peninsula Volunteers Little House facility in Menlo Park, until he suffered a stroke in February.
"He paid his debt to society," Mr. Smith told the judge. "To say that this case is a prison case is cruel and inhuman."
"This defendant has engaged in criminal behavior for a long period of time," Deputy District Attorney Sarah Boxer argued. "This person is deserving of prison."
Before his most recent conviction, Mr. Miller had served 18 months in federal prison after being convicted for wire fraud in 2002 for trying to sell a Florida man a fictitious stake in the Golden State Warriors for $250,000, according to Ms. Boxer.
That fraud was one in a "lengthy history of con convictions," Ms. Boxer said, including a federal conviction in 1990 for making false statements on a loan application; a misdemeanor conviction in 1992 for passing a bad $57,500 check to the co-owner of Mr. Miller's previous business, a San Carlos carpet company; a federal mail fraud conviction in 2001; and a petty theft conviction in 2004 in Palo Alto.
According to Ms. Boxer, Mr. Miller, now retired, receives limited funds regularly from a nearly $1 million trust that he uses to convince people he can cover expenses.
"He tells people he has the trust, but doesn't tell people he has limited access to the trust funds," Ms. Boxer said.
Mr. Miller could have been sentenced to a maximum of seven years and eight months in state prison in this case, according to Ms. Boxer. "Part of that sentence would have been appropriate," she lamented.
The judge disagreed, though he took a moment to admonish Mr. Miller.
"You took advantage of the goodwill and trust of others," Judge Scott said. "You were using money that wasn't yours, and that's not okay in our society."
Judge Scott added that he saw "no useful purpose" in sentencing Mr. Miller to prison, "with the state of health care (there)," he said, for what he described as an "unsophisticated check-kiting series of crimes."
"It is my goal that he recover, and again, resume the (volunteer) work that he had been doing, because I do see a benefit to society in that," Judge Scott said.
Judge Scott imposed an additional sentence of nine months in county jail, six months of which Miller will serve affixed to an electronic home monitoring bracelet, followed by three months with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office work program.
Judge Scott gave one final warning:
"Mr. Miller, let me be clear," he said. "If you're not where you say you're going to be, you'll be serving the rest of your sentence in jail."