A former Baltimore sheriff's deputy will spend a year in prison for supplying bullets to a friend he knew was a convicted felon who couldn't legally own a gun.
Lewis W. Benson, who spent most of his 20-year career as a courtroom deputy in Baltimore Circuit Court, faced up to 18 months in federal prison. U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis issued the minimum sentence of 12 months yesterday after three city judges and the sheriff's chief deputy described Benson as a hardworking officer and caring family man.
Davis said "nothing is more sad," than seeing a basically good person in trouble with the law. But the judge also described Benson's crime as "conscious, purposeful wrongdoing by a person sworn to uphold the law."
Benson, 43, was charged after he gave five .38-caliber bullets to John T. Gilden, a longtime friend who was convicted of second-degree murder in Howard County in 1974, court records indicate. Convicted felons are prohibited from possessing guns and ammunition.
Gilden told Benson in 1996 that he needed the bullets for self-protection because he was living above a bar in a tough part of Baltimore. Benson agreed, delivering the handful of bullets in a bag marked "To John, From Lew," even though he knew about Gilden's criminal history.
Court records show that the FBI learned about the transaction in 1998 during a separate investigation of Benson for alleged loan-sharking.
Benson resigned from the sheriff's office shortly after he was charged and pleaded guilty in April to one count of supplying ammunition to a felon.
The charge was unusual, in part because there was no evidence Gilden used the bullets.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph L. Evans argued yesterday that with Baltimore facing a crisis of gun violence, the courts cannot tolerate firearm offenses - especially offenses committed by law enforcement officers.
"In order to discharge his trust, frankly, he should have arrested" Gilden, Evans said. "At the very least, he should have done nothing."
Benson apologized at yesterday's sentencing hearing.
"I realize it was wrong," he said, adding that the crime has cost him both a job he loved and his reputation.
Several powerful figures in Baltimore's legal community asked Davis to show leniency for Benson, a one-time local boxer known in the ring as the "Battling Sheriff."
Witnesses described Benson only as a conscientious officer who helped maintain order through all sorts of courtroom drama.
"He exercised in the courtroom good judgement, and he was what I would call a stand-up kind of guy," retired Circuit Judge Edward J. Angeletti testified.
Circuit Judge David B. Mitchell and Col. G. Wayne Cox, senior deputy in the sheriff's office, also praised Benson's work. Circuit Judge Thomas Ward submitted a letter on Benson's behalf.