A lawyer for the girlfriend of mobster James J. "Whitey" Bulger’s argued at a federal appeals court that her eight-year prison sentence was excessive.

"There has not been a harboring case like this," said Catherine Greig’s lawyer, Dana Curhan, at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit during oral argument on a March 5.

But the three-judge panel, including retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, appeared skeptical.

Greig appealed several facets of the sentence issued last June by Judge Douglas Woodlock of the District of Massachusetts for her role in helping Bulger remain a fugitive 16 years, mostly at a Santa Monica, Calif., apartment. She has asked for a reduction to a 27-to-33 month sentence.

Woodlock also sentenced her to three years of supervised release, plus a $150,000 fine and a $300 special assessment.

The sentence followed Greig’s guilty plea in March 2012 on charges of conspiracy to harbor a fugitive, conspiracy to commit identity fraud and identity fraud.

According to her brief, Greig seeks resentencing on the harboring charge because she "was not involved in the underlying offenses alleged against Bulger." She argues that Woodlock erroneously exceeded a sentencing cap for the "mere harboring" of a fugitive.

In addition, she argues that her alleged identify fraud conduct was to help harbor Bulger and not for financial gain.

Grieg further disputes two sentencing enhancements issued by Woodlock. She claims a two-level firearm enhancement was erroneous because there’s no record that she actually knew about the existence of firearms in the apartment. And Grieg contests an obstruction-of-justice enhancement for her delay in telling Pretrial Services officials in California after her arrest that she owned a house and a had a bank account with about $134,000. She claims she believed that she lost the house and bank account because she abandoned them. She later learned that her sister paid her house taxes while she was on the lam.

Circuit Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson sat on the panel along with Senior Judge Norman Stahl and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who heard the case by designation.

Curhan sought to distinguish Greig’s case by arguing that other harboring cases involve substantial extraneous criminal conduct.

Souter responded that Greig essentially participated in concealing Bulger for 15 or 16 years. "This isn’t an overnight sheltering."

Stahl added that her conduct was essential for Bulger to avoid capture:

"Without her activity he would have had to have been in the public eye much, much more and more likely to be discovered."

During further questioning, Stahl asked Curhan what actions should lead to a sentencing of more than simple harboring for Greig.

When Curhan replied "using false identities," Stahl noted that she obtained medicine for Bulger with false identification.

"She engaged in identity theft," Thompson added.

After further debate, Curhan said that the evidence showed that Greig did not use the identities of real people. The government claims Greig and Bulger purchased the identities of people who were mentally ill, homeless or alcohol or drug abusers, but Greig has denied any involvement.

"She disputes that she was there and disputes that she took any active role," Curhan said.

The government’s lawyer, Jack Pirozzolo, first assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said that, on more than one occasion, Greig used "an actual identification of an actual person" to get medicine for Bulger.

"The additional element of identity theft and identity fraud brings it outside the scope of mere concealment," Pirozzolo said.

Pirozzolo also noted that most of the weapons that Greig has denied knowing about were in a common area behind a mirror in the kitchen.

"As we argued in our brief in evaluating whether the conduct goes beyond harboring, you can look at all [of the defendant's] actions," Pirozzolo said.

Sheri Qualters can be contacted at squalters@alm.com.