The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Tuesday refused to vacate the prison sentence of ex-Sullivan & Cromwell partner John J. O’Brien. The circuit rejected O’Brien’s claim that the 28-month sentence he received for failing to pay millions in taxes was both substantively and procedurally unreasonable.
O’Brien, 49, a mergers and acquisitions specialist, pleaded guilty to two counts each of failing to file tax returns and failing to pay income taxes on partnership income. Instead of paying the taxes, he used the money to pay for his partner’s rare book business. Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman, who ordered the sentence in 2012, called O’Brien’s rise from a working-class background to a major law firm partnership and his subsequent fall "a Greek tragedy" (NYLJ, Jan. 12, 2012). He also ordered O’Brien to pay $2.87 million in restitution.
On Tuesday, Judges John Walker, Gerard Lynch and Susan Carney said by summary order that they could find no fault with the sentence, saying Pitman "properly considered the relevant mitigating factors, including the degree to which he [O'Brien] had self-reported his violations and his mental illnesses, and balanced them against the need for uniformity in sentences and the magnitude of the tax losses to the government."
Nicholas Pinto argued the appeal for O’Brien. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stanley Okula argued for the government.