Throwback Thursday, O'Connor saves Burnett from life sentence, Reduced to 10 year sentence

A career criminal who masterminded the $2.5 million Tivol Jewels heist in 1997 was sentenced Thursday to 15 years in federal prison for the robbery and for his role in an unrelated cocaine trafficking case.

Prosecutors had asked for a 10-year sentence for Clarence Burnett, 26, to reward him for helping  investigators make criminal cases against more than a dozen other men from California to Missouri. Burnett's defense lawyers asked for even less time.

"In my career as a prosecutor, I've had very few witnesses who have had this level of cooperation," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Becker. "It's not normal cooperation."

But Senior U.S. District Judge Howard F. Sachs said he was uncomfortable with a 10-year sentence, given Burnett's extensive criminal history.


"This balances the credit for an extraordinary degree of cooperation with a very high danger of recidivism and an unusually demanding need for protection of society," Sachs said.

Burnett had faced a possible term of 30 years to life in prison for a prior cocaine trafficking conviction. He said Thursday that he cooperated with authorities both to cut his sentence and to get his life straightened out.

"I've learned that I should have been a better role model and an honorable father to my children," Burnett said. "I'm ashamed of what I did."

Earlier this year, Burnett was the government's star witness in the trial of several men accused of conspiring with him to rob Tivol Jewels and other Kansas City area businesses in the late 1990s.

Since then, prosecutors contend that two of the men convicted by Burnett's testimony have tried to even the score. In legal papers filed this week, prosecutors allege that Angelo and Joseph Porrello - jewelry store owners who fenced some of the jewels - have put a contract out on Burnett's life.

A lawyer representing the Porrellos dismissed the accusation Thursday.

"Angelo and Joseph Porrello deny these allegations and believe that information from sources that are not identified should not be given any credibility by the court," James Wyrsch said.

At the Porrellos' trial in March, defense lawyers argued that Burnett's cooperation had gone too far. They used Burnett's jail phone recordings to paint him as a conniving inmate desperately trying to cut his sentence by manufacturing testimony against innocent men, but the jury didn't buy it.

Court records show that Burnett has cooperated in criminal cases against at least 16 men. Last year, he also gave authorities information that helped convict two former Kansas City Chiefs - Tamarick Vanover of car theft and Bam Morris of drug trafficking.

Burnett was convicted in March 1999 on two federal cocaine trafficking charges, both related to the search of a recreational vehicle in Oklahoma earlier that year. Several months after that conviction, Burnett began cooperating with authorities and pleaded guilty to charges in the Tivol case.


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