By EVE BYRON
A man who served little jail time, even after being sentenced for his fourth driving-under-the influence charge, was ordered by a federal court judge Thursday to spend 15 months in prison for illegally taking about $63,400 in Social Security funds.
Senior U.S. District Court Judge Charles Lovell called Antonio Mathias Petersen “a public menace” and rejected his request to get out of prison immediately so he could go to work as a wildland firefighter to pay off his debt. Instead, Lovell said he wanted to be sure he got Petersen’s attention regarding the severity of his offenses.
“I’m not sure that we have Mr. Petersen’s attention yet, particularly as I review the criminal history, which is atrocious,” Lovell said. “I notice, beginning on page eight of the presentence report and continuing for six to seven pages, commissions of a number of crimes beginning at age 15, in January of 1998.”
That crime involved criminal conspiracy, burglary and receipt of stolen property, for which Petersen received probation. At age 16, he was arrested and ordered into a residential treatment program for motor vehicle theft.
Petersen was arrested again in 2004, when he was 22, for his first DUI charge, when he struck an unattended vehicle and left the scene. He also was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and reckless driving; he was sentenced to 10 days in jail, but nine were suspended.
“I don’t think that sentence really got the attention of this defendant,” Lovell said.
His second DUI came in October 2005, when he drove a GMC truck into a tree. Lovell noted that the tree could have easily been a school bus full of children. For this, he was sentenced to five days of house arrest.
Next came charges of partner/family member assault and resisting arrest, with a six-month suspended sentence. Petersen spent one day in jail for that.
He combined the PFMA and DUI charge a year later in November 2008, when police received a call of an alteration in progress. They stopped Petersen’s vehicle, noticed a crying female with a torn coat and red marks on her neck. His blood-alcohol content this time was .160, and his sentence was 180 days in jail, with 120 days suspended.
Earlier that year, in April 2008, Petersen applied to Social Security for “surviving spouse with child in care benefits” as well as auxiliary survivor benefits for his minor son, based on the death of his wife. He said his son lived with him.
However, his son was residing with his grandparents, who paid his living and health care expenses and never received any financial support from Petersen. In 2009, they were appointed guardians of their grandson.
Petersen’s fourth DUI, which is a felony, came in December 2010. This time, he received a 13-month sentence, but that was suspended except for two days. However, it did bring him to the attention of Social Security officials, who interviewed him.
Petersen acknowledged that while he took his child on some weekends, his son normally lived with his grandparents. He said he used the child’s money to purchase a home in East Helena.
He was charged with Social Security fraud.
In court Thursday, Petersen, 31, readily acknowledged that he has a problem with alcohol and got help with it, but after his wife and daughter died in a traffic accident at the intersection of Lake Helena Drive and Canyon Ferry Road in March 2008, his life spiraled downward.
“I have had a couple of relapses, and I do understand I have put this community at great risk and am severely sorry for that,” Petersen said. “I am trying with all my heart. Living in confinement with rapists and murderers and other failed people has made me see that if I don’t help myself and others nothing will change and I will be stuck in that environment for the rest of my life, watching my children from the outside. I don’t want that.”
But Lovell said that when he took Petersen’s entire criminal history into consideration, letting him off with time served just didn’t make sense. The guideline range, based on Petersen’s offense and criminal history, was 10 to 16 months.
“Do you understand the risk you pose to others and the public?” Lovell asked. “You are a public menace when you operate a heavy vehicle out of control.”
His attorney noted that Petersen would pay $5,000 in restitution, and Lovell ordered the remaining $58,410 to be paid at a rate of $300 per month once Petersen is out of prison. He also ordered Petersen to be supervised by the parole office for three years upon his release, and told him to stay away from alcohol and drugs. He’ll be required to attend alcohol treatment in prison, and possibly mental health classes.
“Mr. Petersen, I hope that you understand that drinking and driving just isn’t going to be permitted of you,” Lovell said. “Society will not tolerate it anymore. You have got to choose your ways. I hope that you will think about that seriously for the next 15 months.”
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Eve on Twitter @IR_Eve Byron