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updated: 8/2/2011 2:31 PM

Ex-attorney again gets 12 years for fraud, porn

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Associated Press

EAST ST. LOUIS -- A once-prominent attorney who authorities say tried to blackmail his ex-wife with decades-old nude photos of her sister didn't have any better luck during a resentencing hearing ordered by a federal appeals court, again getting 12 years in federal prison on child-porn and bankruptcy fraud charges.

Gary Peel, 67, was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis after prosecutors threw out an obstruction-of-justice charge -- one of the options the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals suggested in sending Peel back to the lower court for sentencing. Peel got the same sentence in 2007.

A three-judge panel of the Chicago-based appellate court upheld Peel's conviction on two counts of possessing child pornography last year. But the court ordered the judge who sentenced Peel in 2007 to throw out a bankruptcy fraud or obstruction of justice conviction, saying charging Peel with both amounted to double jeopardy.

Peel's sentence Monday included two 10-year terms to be served simultaneously on each of the two child-pornography counts, with a two-year sentence tacked on for the bankruptcy fraud conviction.

"Those who possess child pornography, prey on the innocence of others, and use the legal system as a weapon for their own personal gain, are deserving of stiff sentences such as this," said Stephen Wigginton, the U.S. attorney for southern Illinois. "My office has, and will continue to pursue those who violate the law, no matter their station in life."

Peel, who was a prominent lawyer in Illinois' Madison County northeast of St. Louis, divorced Deborah Peel in 2003 and filed for bankruptcy in 2005. A short while later, he approached his ex-wife, acknowledging a long-ago affair with her younger sister and telling her about photographs of that woman that he took in 1974, when she was 16.

Peel implied he might make the photographs public if his ex-wife did not let him out of his financial obligations to her and to discourage her from publicly disclosing his insolvency. He eventually showed her the originals at a meeting secretly recorded by federal agents.

Peel had insisted he thought his sister-in-law was 18 when the pictures were taken. But 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner, in the appellate ruling, wrote that Peel had "extensive" knowledge of the girl's age, having known her from the time she was a fourth-grader to when he represented her in a divorce.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected without comment Peel's push to have his conviction thrown out on claims that there was no federal child pornography law when he took the nude shots. Such a law took effect in 1978 and, after being amended, now applies to sexual depictions of children younger than 18.

"This is a child pornography case that does not involve a child," Peel's lawyers argued in a written brief to the high court, adding that the age of consent in Illinois was 16 in 1974 so Peel's affair did not violate state law.

Peel won a case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1990. Facing sanctions for advertising himself as a certified civil trial specialist, Peel lost a state Supreme Court ruling that his advertising claim was misleading because it made him seem more qualified than other lawyers who do the same type of work.

But by a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states may not ban potentially misleading information if the information also may be presented in a way that is not deceptive. Peel did not argue the case in Washington.