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20-year terms for pipeline con men tossed

A three-judge appeals court panel in Manhattan has upheld the conviction of three confidence men who ran a bizarre $3-billion scheme to build a supposed pipeline across Siberia, but threw out the 20-year sentence for conspiracy to commit fraud each had received.

The judges ordered U.S. District Judge Sandra Feuerstein in Central Islip to resentence the three, with two judges questioning the thoroughness of the procedures used in the sentencing and one judge saying that the sentences were "shockingly high" because the conduct of the convicted were "more farcical than dangerous."

That judge, Stefan Underhill, said in the decision released Tuesday the defendants' "conduct was not dangerous because they had absolutely no hope of success." Underhill called their actions "a comedic plot outline for a Three Stooges episode . . . [with] the seriousness of a scheme to sell the Brooklyn Bridge."

The confidence trio -- John Juncal of Montana, Rodney Sampson of Georgia and James Campbell of Iowa -- were convicted in 2009 of attempting to swindle a Long Island hedge fund out of $3 billion, claiming they were working with officials of the small Soviet Republic of Buryatia to build a 2,500-mile pipeline through Siberia. They also said they had the backing of an Atlanta bank set up by the Yamasee Indian nation. Their sentences were the maximum allowed under federal law.

The three men had no connection with Buryatia, the Yamasees were not a federally recognized tribe, and the bank did not exist, according to officials.

The Long Island hedge-fund operator they approached with the scheme to get the $3 billion was, in fact, working as an FBI informant, according to court records. Attorneys for the three were pleased with the decision.

Juncal's attorney, John Wallenstein of Garden City, said Friday, "From the beginning, we felt that the case was absurd. No one could be taken in by this."

Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the Eastern District, said his office was reviewing the decision and had no additional comment. A clerk in Feuerstein's office late Friday afternoon said Feuerstein was not immediately available, but it is improbable that a district court judge would comment on a ruling by an appeals court.

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