Among life's temptations, nearly $2 million in government money passing through Baltimore-Washington International Airport in April proved to be the breaking point for a baggage handler -- a man until then known as honest and hard-working, a stable employee and devoted father. He pocketed $40,000 of it.
A federal judge yesterday concluded that the mistake amounted to a single aberrant incident by a man in financial difficulty, and gave Sylvester Augustus Moott two years of probation. The judge threw in three months of home detention and 200 hours of community service because Mr. Moott, 55, does not have the money to repay the $13,000 still missing.
"People faced with a similar temptation in the future should not give in because they know from Mr. Moott's example the consequences," said U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph L. Evans recommended a sentence of up to six months in jail.
Mr. Moott's lawyer tallied other costs already paid by Mr. Moott. He lost his full-time job with the Social Security Administration and his part-time baggage-handler job with American Airlines. His girlfriend split up with him. Left with no means of financial support, he moved in with his former wife in Halethorpe. The incident also revealed him to be an illegal alien.
The humiliation to his family had been particularly costly. At the mention of his 11-year-old daughter, Mr. Moott removed his glasses and brushed away tears.
When it was his turn to speak, He apologized to the judge. "It just devastated me so bad," he said.
On April 26, Mr. Moott was among three handlers who loaded the cargo of $1.92 million in U.S. government money, which was shrink-wrapped and bound for a Federal Reserve Bank in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
With a slit of the plastic wrap, he was able to grab two $20,000 bricks of cash.