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HIV ‘outlaw’ gets 21-year sentence

A former D.C. government worker who has known since 1996 that he has the AIDS virus was sentenced to a 21-year prison term Thursday for luring women and teenage girls into sexual relationships without telling them of the risks.
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A former D.C. government worker who has known since 1996 that he has the AIDS virus was sentenced to a 21-year prison term yesterday for luring women and teenage girls into sexual relationships without telling them of the risks.

Sundiata Basir, 34, a onetime assistant to a deputy mayor, had unprotected sex with at least seven partners in what prosecutors called "a stunning picture of criminal recklessness." Four women and girls, including a 15-year-old, later discovered that they had the AIDS virus, prosecutors said. Basir offered no apologies yesterday in D.C. Superior Court, declaring at one point: "I'm not going to say anything. Every time I say something, I get another case."

The judge called Basir a "violent, self-absorbed outlaw," and prosecutors expressed concern about the broader impact of his behavior. Basir had sex with an unknown number of others who might be spreading the virus, they said. Authorities urged people who think they might have been exposed to seek medical screening.

Because of the number and ages of victims and the threat to public health, prosecutors said Basir's case is particularly outrageous. They noted that the District already faces an HIV crisis: One in 20 residents is infected with the AIDS virus, the highest rate of any major U.S. city.

Basir pleaded guilty in July to child sexual abuse, cruelty to children and attempted aggravated assault. Those charges stemmed from relationships with a woman and two teenage girls.

Prosecutors said Basir never warned his partners, even though some asked him to use a condom. He also ignored the advice of his sister, a doctor, who said he could transmit the disease if he failed to take precautions, they said.

Fathered seven children
Basir has fathered seven children with six women and girls, prosecutors said. None of the children have been diagnosed with HIV. Even after marrying one of his victims -- who was 17 when they wed in 2002 -- Basir mentioned nothing about his medical condition, they said.

From 1999 to 2002, Basir worked as an executive assistant for Carolyn N. Graham, who was the deputy mayor in charge of social services. He was paid $43,100 a year.

Graham, now on the D.C. school board, said she was unaware of Basir's legal or medical problems. She said he was one of the first staff members she hired in late 1999 and that he served as her secretary and receptionist before being promoted to staff assistant. He organized community meetings, drafted letters and worked with a blue-ribbon panel on juvenile justice reform.

Graham said she could not believe that her "trusted" aide, whom she described as "brilliant," would harm anyone, particular young girls. "There was nothing that I asked him to do that he wouldn't do," she said. "Everybody loved him. This other life we knew nothing about."

That other life came to light after his arrest in December 2003 on narcotics and firearms charges. A relative of one of the victims alerted authorities, who launched an investigation. Basir, of Southwest Washington, wrote disturbing letters to two victims while he was incarcerated, prosecutors said, including one in which he described himself as "Strictly Gangsta."

The case against Basir focused on his activities from 1996 until his arrest in 2003. In court yesterday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Grant said Basir was "pure evil," a liar who did not care whether the women and girls lived or died.

"When Basir was exposing people to the HIV virus, he was doing it to the mother of his child, his wife. . . . He took advantage of that trust," Grant said.

Defense blames mental illness
Defense attorney Anthony Matthews painted a far more sympathetic portrait, saying Basir was once "a shining light." Basir suffered from mental illness and was in total denial about the virus, Matthews said.

Matthews said Basir was a brilliant student and a graduate of Banneker Senior High School. He later attended Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of the District of Columbia and American University, according to court records.

"Mr. Basir deviated from a path . . . to the person standing here," Matthews said as his client stood next to him in an orange jail-issued jumpsuit. "This is not the person Basir started out to be."

Judge Robert I. Richter attempted to delve into Basir's motivation, telling the defendant, "Mr. Matthews said your mind is not functioning clearly."

Basir mumbled, "That's true."

Basir blamed his conduct on his medical condition, which he said led to three nervous breakdowns. "I was in complete denial," he said. "I didn't want to believe I had it. . . . It's not every day you hear that you're going to die."

In addition to the prison term, Richter ordered Basir to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Two victims attended the sentencing, but they did not address the judge. Several victims and their relatives submitted statements to the court for consideration.

"This crime has affected me to the point that I can't be myself again," one woman wrote.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Wainstein, who attended the sentencing, credited the victims with having the courage to cooperate with law enforcement authorities. "Because they stepped forward, defendant Basir's days of manipulating, exploiting and infecting his young romantic partners are over," Wainstein said in a prepared statement.

Wainstein said Basir "played a game of Russian Roulette with the lives of the young women and girls."