WASHINGTON – Prosecutors are portraying Gilbert Arenas as a thuggish intimidator who tried to pressure his teammate into a cover-up, as they argue for a three-month jail sentence for the NBA star on a weapons charge.
Arenas' lawyer says his client is "a peaceful man" who played a misguided prank and has already been severely punished for bringing guns into the Washington Wizards locker room. He says the more fitting punishment is probation and community service.
Both sides staked out their positions Tuesday in court filings, ahead of Friday's sentencing in D.C. Superior Court.
Arenas pleaded guilty Jan. 15 to one felony count of violating the District of Columbia's strict gun laws, a charge stemming from a locker-room confrontation that followed a card-game dispute between Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton during a Dec. 19 flight to Washington. Authorities say Arenas threatened to shoot Crittenton in the face and blow up his car. Two days later, Arenas brought four guns to the locker room and put them in a chair by Crittenton's locker with a sign saying, "Pick 1." Crittenton then retrieved his own gun and showed it to Arenas.
Prosecutors wrote that the locker-room incident "was not a spur-of-the-moment joke," but rather a calculated attempt by Arenas to defend his supremacy among his peers.
"In the confined quarters of an airplane, a younger, junior player disrespected the defendant in front of the entire team," Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh wrote. "On a team where the defendant is the highest-paid player, was the face of the franchise, and is known for particularly outrageous conduct, the defendant believed he had no choice but to respond."
In arguing for jail time, Kavanaugh noted that Arenas lied repeatedly about why the guns were in the locker room. Arenas first claimed he brought them to work because he wanted to get them out of the house and away from his three young children.
Also, on the day after the confrontation, Arenas told a member of the Wizards' management that Crittenton wasn't even in the locker room when the guns were displayed, according to prosecutors. Minutes later, Arenas asked an unnamed teammate to forward a text message to Crittenton, Kavanaugh wrote. The message instructed Crittenton about what he should tell NBA officials.
"Ur new story. U were n the training rm when u got out there were 3 guns on ur chair with a note. That said pick one. Send that to javaris ill take all the Blame," Arenas wrote, according to prosecutors. "Ill come up with the story. But that all he needs to say. If we hav to talk to the nba office."
A spokeswoman for Arenas' lawyers declined to comment on the allegation. She said the defense would respond to the government's sentencing memorandum at Friday's hearing.
Prosecutors also cited Arenas' prior conviction for carrying a concealed weapon in California in 2003 and his joking antics in the wake of the incident. They said any claim by Arenas that he was ignorant of D.C. gun laws is false, citing a November 2009 team meeting on the subject.
As part of the plea deal with Arenas, the government said in January it would not seek more than six months in jail, although the judge can give Arenas anywhere from probation to the charge's maximum term of five years. The sentencing guidelines for someone with Arenas' record call for a sentence of six to 24 months, although the guidelines also allow for probation.
In Tuesday's filing, prosecutors also proposed that Arenas serve three years' probation and perform 300 hours of community service in addition to the three-month jail term.
A survey of similar cases over the last two years in the district indicate that about half of the defendants convicted of Arenas' crime receive some amount of jail time. Crittenton received a year of unsupervised probation after pleading guilty in January to a misdemeanor gun charge. He did not have a prior guns-related conviction.
Arenas' lawyers held nothing back in making the case for their client, filing a memorandum that runs 122 pages and includes numerous character-reference letters, with Arenas' father, Alana Beard of the WNBA's Washington Mystics and ESPN's Dave McMenamin among those offering their support. There are no letters from any of Arenas' current or former Wizards teammates, coaches or management.
Arenas has a reputation as a flamboyant showman and self-promoter, but his lawyers attempted to portray a different side with sections with titles such as "Kindness to Strangers" and "Mr. Arenas as a Role Model."
"He is a genuinely caring person, he has long devoted himself to serving the community and others, and despite a history of pranks and misguided practical jokes, he is a peaceful man who is not aggressive or confrontational in any way. ... He is the rare superstar athlete who shies away from the fast-lane lifestyle," the document says.
Arenas' lawyers said the player's confusion about D.C.'s gun laws — especially in the wake of a 2008 Supreme Court decision that forced D.C. to change its gun laws — should be considered a mitigating circumstance. They also pointed out that Arenas' guns were unloaded and that he is losing more than $7 million in salary from the NBA, which has suspended him without pay from the rest of the season. Arenas has also lost a sponsorship deal with Adidas, which his lawyers say will cost him at least $10 million and possibly more than $40 million, and a separate deal with Spalding, which has cost Arenas about $200,000.
The lawyers also wrote that Arenas' attempts at humor in the wake of the locker room incident — including lighthearted comments on Twitter and a pantomime in which Arenas pretended to shoot his teammates on the court before a game at Philadelphia — were "unwise" but shouldn't be interpreted as contradicting Arenas' statements of contrition.
"The whole world has watched as a man who brought four unloaded guns into the District of Columbia was required to accept a felony plea, suffer great personal and professional collateral consequences, register as a 'gun offender,' submit to court supervision, and face public scorn," the lawyers wrote. "This sad saga has sent a strong message to any and all who might consider bringing guns into the District."