Criminal law is mind boggling. White-collar crime is serious, but to give two unfortunate idiots a harsher sentence for trying to cheat some greasy burger joint than the average violent offender who beats or rapes simply doesn’t make sense.
On average, rape offenders typically get more than eight years in prison for their crime and a violent offender will get seven years, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Anna Ayala and Jaime Plascencia were ordered to pay more than $21 million and were given prison sentences of nine and 12 years, respectively, for trying to swindle Wendy’s. Ayala claimed she found a finger in a cup of chili she ordered from the fast-food restaurant. Ayala tossed the finger in the chili, pretended to find it and be appalled, and wasted no time filing a lawsuit.
When it was determined that Ayala and Plascencia lied, they were arrested and soon plead guilty to filing a false insurance claim and grand theft. On Jan. 18, their harsh sentences were handed down.
The couple’s scheme created a mess for Wendy’s: The restaurant laid off dozens of workers to cope with lost sales of $2.5 million. But ordered to pay $21 million? Sentenced to nine and 12 years? Wendy’s is, according to its Web site, an $11.6 billion company. Losing $2.5 million of that is like the average college student losing $10. You get angry but you get over it.
White-collar crime costs the government a lot of money, but rape is considered one of the most expensive crimes today, and rape offenders typically get less time. The DOJ’s Web site says a murder victim’s family has a 7 percent chance of receiving restitution, while a rape victim has a slightly higher (10 percent) chance of receiving restitution.
Billion-dollar Wendy’s needs restitution while 90 percent of murder and rapist victims don’t? This doesn’t balance out.
These people are desperate enough for money to try and cheat a fast-food chain, yet the court wants them to fine them $21 million. It won’t do any good; they’ll give Wendy’s the little money they have left and then declare bankruptcy, if they haven’t already. The demand becomes only words.
“[The Judge’s] real concern is for the integrity of the judicial system,” said Conrad Kattner, a lawyer and Temple professor. The long sentences and massive restitution payment is, he says, “a message: Don’t defraud the judicial system.”
That makes the sentence seem more reasonable; we need to protect our judicial system. But, Plascencia and Ayala aren’t the first people to abuse the justice system. Look at the woman who sued McDonald’s because her coffee was too hot, or the people who sued Blockbuster because they didn’t like the company’s policy of late fees.
Perhaps it wasn’t the length of the sentence or monumental sum of money that is appalling. Maybe it is that the sentences seem unfairly applied. After all, Jamie Plascencia and Anna Ayala aren’t Bonny and Clyde. They aren’t even really grafters; they don’t deserve that much credit.
Ashley Helaudais can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.