Students and community react to Black's sentencing
Black received five years' probation for two felonies
Former UB Vice President Dennis Black has avoided jail despite the district attorney’s recommendation that he serves time behind bars.
After pleading guilty to two felonies, stealing more than $300,000 from university bank accounts and tax fraud, Black was sentenced to five years’ probation, 2,500 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine Friday morning.
State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski said he believed Black’s actions merited at least a year in county jail, but sentencing guidelines only allowed Black to serve time in a state prison. Michalski ultimately sided with Black’s defense attorney Brian Mahoney who argued state prison would be unfair due to Black’s full restitution and years of public service at UB.
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn, who recommended that Black serve some amount of jail time, was not at the courtroom Friday.
Upon learning that Black would avoid time, Flynn, an alumnus of UB’s law school, told The Spectrum that Black betrayed the trust of the UB community. Flynn expressed his disappointment, but said he understood the situation.
“My opinion hasn’t changed. When I sent my assistant DA into the courtroom on Friday to speak at the sentencing, she advocated for jail time,” Flynn said. “I believe that jail was appropriate in this case. I’m not going to criticize [the] judge. We have checks and balances in our system for a reason. I’m not the judge or the jury. All I can do is accept the outcome.”
As a result of his sentencing, Black will be stripped of major rights endowed to U.S. citizens. Flynn explained that this consequence of Black’s actions will follow him for the rest of his life, no matter how cooperative he was during the investigation.
“He’s a convicted felon, forever. He may still keep his pension, but he can’t vote or own a gun ever again. If he ever tries to apply for another job, he has to check ‘yes’ to that question on the application form,” Flynn said. “He has a scarlet letter of being a convicted felon that will follow him around for the rest of his life. At least that’s some punishment.”
Many students on campus expressed a mixture of outrage, shock and disappointment after learning that Black will avoid serving any jail time. Out of 30 students interviewed, every student shared their frustration with the court’s decision on Black’s sentencing.
Leslie Veloz, senior psychology and English major and Student Association president, has mixed feelings about Black’s sentencing. As SA president, Veloz is happy the university received full restitution from Black, but is personally upset that Black won’t face any jail time, she said.
“Personally, I’m extremely disappointed at the outcome [of Black’s trial] because there was no sense of accountability,” Veloz said. “This reflects and illuminates the disparity amongst the differences within socio-economic classes, race and demographics. If it were anyone else in any other position, this would have been a lifetime sentencing.”
Veloz recalls Flynn’s explanation that Black could face up to 15 years in prison for his actions and said she feels “clueless” as to how he got away with minor penalties. She said the result left her questioning the checks and balances in place for convicting felons like Black of their crimes.
“To leave unscathed with just community service is outrageous in light of everything that is going on in our current political climate,” Veloz said. “When people are getting 20 years for minor crimes or crimes that they did not commit but you can get away with stealing over $300,000, something seems off to me.”
Many students share Veloz’s frustration and are confused as to how Black avoided jail time altogether.
Tyler Beals, a sophomore chemistry major, called Black’s actions a “flagrant misuse of power” and believes the court should have given him a more serious sentencing.
“No one that makes that much money should be able to abuse their power and get away with it,” Beals said. “Just because someone is in a position of power doesn’t make it OK to steal from others, especially the students he was supposedly [at UB] to help.”
Other students were less surprised with the outcome of Black’s sentencing. Ivan Mah, a senior exercise science major, feels that Black’s case is a perfect example of how people in powerful positions continually escape punishment from our nation’s justice system.
“What happened to Black is all too typical these days and frankly, it’s bullsh*t,” Mah said. “People like Black shouldn’t be getting away with these types of crimes while other people are being sent to jail for minor offenses. It’s really saddening but nowadays I guess that’s just the trend.”
Many professors also feel Black deserved to go to jail for betraying the thousands of fellow students, staff and community members effected by his actions. The Spectrum reached out to over a dozen professors, but all declined to comment on the record.
“Throughout these legal proceedings, we have had confidence in the judicial process,” the university said in a statement following Black’s sentencing. “We are pleased that restitution to the university has been made as part of Mr. Black’s guilty plea.”
UB spokesperson John Della Contrada had no further comment on the topic.
Flynn said he sympathizes with current students and hopes that the university continues to take this issue seriously, to ensure that it won’t happen again. In the past, instances like this have caused university officials across the nation to step down. Flynn doesn’t see this as necessary now, but before evidence of more money being stolen surfaces, he encourages UB’s administrators to think hard about the seriousness of their jobs.
“If [UB’s administration] doesn’t make some changes and if they don’t follow through on ensuring that this doesn’t happen again, then clearly, all of them are in dereliction of duty,” Flynn said. “If it happens again then obviously, they didn’t take this seriously. If you don’t take the number three person stealing over $300,000 [seriously], you aren’t doing your job right.”
Max Kalnitz is a news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org