RICHARD V. SECORD, the man who reportedly made $1.5 million selling arms in the Iran-contra scandal, has walked out of federal court virtually scot-free. The only penalty imposed was two years' probation -- hardly even a wrist tap considering the gravity of his offense.
Secord was the middleman who helped organize and manage the secret operation that sold arms to Iran during the Reagan administration and diverted the profits to the rebels in Nicaragua. Such aid to the contras was barred by Congress at the time. Secord, in a plea arrangement, pleaded guilty to a single count of making a false statement to Congress.
Federal Judge Aubrey Robinson said that Secord had already suffered "punishment enough," but that is a strange judgment considering the seriousness of the crime and the effect of the Iran-contra affair on the conduct of our government and on international relations. Secord could have been sentenced to five years in jail and a $250,000 fine.
His sentence was the lightest of those imposed on Iran-contra principals so far. Retired Lt. Col. Oliver North, who hired Secord and organized aid for the contras, also was given probation, but in addition he was fined $150,000 and ordered to perform 1,200 hours of community service. Robert
C. McFarlane, former national security adviser, also misled Congress, and he was sentenced to a $20,000 fine and 200 hours of community service.
While there was no excuse for what North and McFarlane did, their patriotic but misguided motives created some mitigating circumstances that justified leniency. Secord, on the other hand, was an arms dealer who was out to make a killing. He conceded that he made $250,000 on the arms sales, although the prosecutor said his profits totaled $1.5 million.
Secord appears to feel that he was carrying out the wishes of the government in the diversion of funds to the contras. He said: "It was my assumption that everyone knew about this all the way to the top." In fact, he calls former President Reagan "cowardly" for not taking more responsibility for the affair.
But painstaking investigation in congressional hearings linked the diversion of funds to only a few senior officials, such as North, McFarlane and former national security adviser John Poindexter, who goes on trial this month.
In any case, neither government officials nor Secord had any excuse for going beyond the law. But the limp penalty in the Secord case will not deter such misconduct in the future.