A West Philadelphia gunman who shot and wounded a store owner with an AK-47 rifle during an attempted robbery two years ago was sentenced Thursday to 14 years and three months in federal prison in a case that pitted the region’s top federal law enforcement official against the city’s prosecutor.
Jovaun Patterson, 31, pleaded guilty in December to federal attempted robbery and weapons charges in exchange for the negotiated sentence in the May 2018 shooting of Mike Poeng outside his KCJ Inc. beer deli at 54th and Spruce Streets. That came a year after city prosecutors first agreed to let Patterson plead guilty to assault and robbery charges for a state prison term of 3½ to 10 years.
That deal stirred outrage in the law enforcement community and action from U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain, who said the case was an example of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner offering “sweetheart deals to violent defendants.”
In a news conference after Thursday’s sentencing, McSwain said the district attorney’s agreement with Patterson “sent a message that violent crime has little consequences” and called the office’s “mishandling” of the case “symbolic of a larger catastrophe” in the city with homicides, shootings, and serious violent crime skyrocketing. He also called Krasner’s prior statement that “poverty equals bullets” a condescending “slap in the face” to law-abiding, low-income Philadelphians.
“There are scores of low-income people in the city who respect the law, never shoot anybody, love their neighbors, and work hard to improve their neighborhood,” he said.
Krasner’s office did not respond to a request for comment on McSwain’s statements.
Patterson had been a regular customer of Poeng’s deli when he approached the owner outside the store on May 5, 2018, brandishing the assault weapon and announcing a stickup. Poeng, who arrived to the United States in 1981 from Cambodia as a refugee, fought back, but Patterson shot him in the groin and fled. He was arrested nearly two months later, but the gun was never recovered.
Poeng’s injuries required multiple surgeries and left him unable to work — he ultimately gave up his store — and he was stunned when city prosecutors failed to notify him before their November 2018 plea deal with Patterson, a violation of the state’s Crime Victims Act. After criticism of the deal, Krasner’s office unsuccessfully tried to get Common Pleas Court Judge Rayford Means to vacate it.
In a rare move, McSwain’s office in February 2019 then announced its own case against Patterson, the first time federal prosecutors brought charges in a crime for which Krasner’s office already won a conviction and sentence.
Poeng, who has moved from Philadelphia with his family for safety reasons, did not attend Thursday’s sentencing hearing because of the coronavirus risks. But he submitted a victim-impact statement to U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg.
“I died that day. My heart literally stopped pumping, and I died,” said the statement, which was read aloud by an attorney, Tom Malone, who helped Poeng navigate the legal system. “After being shot by a weapon designed for war, and nearly having my leg blown off, I can no longer walk normally.”
Patterson told the judge he hoped Poeng could forgive him. “I take full responsibility for my actions,” he said. “I didn’t mean to harm him. … A lot of humans think I am heartless, but I am not.”
Goldberg said he found it “mind-boggling” that Patterson said he didn’t mean to harm Poeng, and he said the initial plea deal Patterson struck with the District Attorney’s Office was “woefully inadequate and showing little reflection for the victim.”
Goldberg also expressed concern about the negotiated federal sentence, which was at the low end of the guidelines. But he said he “reluctantly” accepted it so that Poeng could get some finality and would not have to return to Philadelphia for a trial.
Patterson’s attorney, S. Philip Steinberg, wrote in his sentencing memorandum that Patterson was “depressed and drug dependent” after his younger half-brother had been fatally shot in 2013. Patterson’s “drug abuse spiraled out of control” and he was ingesting Ecstasy pills, Xanax, Percocet, marijuana, and alcohol daily, including on the day of the shooting, Steinberg wrote.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Salvatore Astolfi asked the judge to order Patterson to reimburse Medicare $400,412 for Poeng’s medical bills, pay $8,179 to a crime victims’ fund, and compensate Poeng for his lost wages. The judge agreed that the restitution amount can be finalized 90 days after the hearing.
The judge ordered Patterson to receive drug treatment, vocational training, and gambling counseling while in prison, and serve five years of supervised release when he is freed.
After Patterson was federally charged, the Common Pleas Court judge granted a request by his defense lawyers for Patterson to withdraw his guilty plea in the city court system. Krasner’s office has appealed that decision and Superior Court has yet to rule. If the court rules against Patterson, he could spend more time behind bars.
In an interview this week, McSwain said his office is actively investigating other cases “that have not been handled appropriately by the local authorities.” He declined to elaborate.