Alleged con man avoids prison for check farud

A 64-year-old Menlo Park man whom prosecutors claim to be a career con artist and who once tried to sell a man the Golden State Warriors basketball team avoided prison today at his sentencing in Redwood City for passing bad checks in 2004.

A San Mateo County jury in June convicted Roger Steven Miller of passing fraudulent checks to banks in Menlo Park and San Jose totaling about $14,000, according to the district attorney's office.

Miller was sentenced to three years' probation today in San Mateo County Superior Court after Judge Joseph Scott agreed with Miller's attorney that prison was no place for a man who suffers from ill health and is now actively engaged in volunteer work. Scott's lenient stance was taken after Miller's attorney, attorney, Charles J. Smith, insisted that Miller has reformed himself and is now devoted to serving the community.

Miller, who had been out of custody since posting bail in January 2005, ambled in to the courtroom this morning with the help of a wooden cane, chatting amiably with Smith and police.

Smith said Miller paid back the money he owed the banks, and had been doing volunteer work with sick children at Stanford University's Ronald McDonald House and with seniors at the Peninsula Volunteers Little House facility in Menlo Park, until he suffered a stroke in February.

“He paid his debt to society,” Smith told the judge. “To say that this case is a prison case is cruel and inhuman.”

“This defendant has engaged in criminal behavior for a long period of time,” Deputy District Attorney Sarah Boxer argued. “This person is deserving of prison.”

Before his most recent conviction, Miller had served 18 months in federal prison after being convicted for wire fraud in 2002 for trying to sell a Florida man a fictitious stake in the Golden State Warriors for $250,000, according to Boxer.

That fraud was one in a “lengthy history of con convictions,” Boxer said, including a federal conviction in 1990 for making false statements on a loan application; a misdemeanor conviction in 1992 for passing a bad $57,500 check to the co-owner of Miller's previous business, a San Carlos carpet company; a federal mail fraud conviction in 2001; and a petty theft conviction in 2004 in Palo Alto.

According to Boxer, Miller, now retired, receives limited funds regularly from a nearly $1 million trust that he uses to convince people he can cover expenses.

“He tells people he has the trust, but doesn't tell people he has limited access to the trust funds,” Boxer said.

Miller could have been sentenced to a maximum seven years, eight months in state prison in this case, according to Boxer. “Part of that sentence would have been appropriate,” she lamented.

The judge disagreed, though he took a moment to admonish Miller.

“You took advantage of the goodwill and trust of others,” Scott said. “You were using money that wasn't yours, and that's not okay in our society.”

Scott added that he saw “no useful purpose” in sentencing Miller to prison, “with the state of health care (there),” he said, for what he described as an “unsophisticated check-kiting series of crimes.”

“It is my goal that he recover, and again, resume the (volunteer) work that he had been doing, because Ido see a benefit to society in that,” Scott said.

Scott imposed an additional sentence of nine months in county jail, six months of which Miller will serve affixed to an electronic home monitoring bracelet, followed by three months with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office work program.

Scott gave one final warning.

“Mr. Miller, let me be clear,” he said. “If you're not where you say you're going to be, you'll be serving the rest of your sentence in jail.”

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