Friday, April 22, 2011

The White Collar Criminal Elite

It was a remarkable experience to write this blawg and subsequently end up in prison with some of the subjects/criminals in the stories I wrote about, or linked to.

One of the guys I felt great sympathy and friendship with at FCI, Morgantown was Jeff Williamson.  Jeff, an orthodox NJ Jew was ensnared in the stings orchestrated by the epic fraudster, Solomon Dweck.  Dwek defrauded tens of millions from inter alia federally-insured banks, then in an effort to avoid certain decades in the slammer set up some 100+ New Jersey public officials, rabbis, and lesser lights.  Jeff was one of the lesser lignts, a building inspector who agreed to expedite inspections in exchange for bribes paid (recorded and videotaped) by Dwek.  I wrote about Dwek in October of 2010.  Let me add: being a small fish does not equal being a small heart, human, or mind.  Jeff, a curmedgeon, was a spiritual guy with a giant heart.  I'll go one step further committing a crime does not automatically one a . . .well, I think you know what I'm going to say. 

Among the larger aggregations of white collar criminals at Morgantown are the crooks connected to the Cuyahoga County [Cleveland] corruption scandals which I wrote about endlessly last year,   While I was at Morgantown, seemingly not a week went by without new arrivals from (or departures to) Cleveland of peple who are sentenced to prison time for offenses relating to Cuyahoga County political meltdown.  By the way, it is not any justification if I observe that these men were caught and prosecuted for activities which were standard practices among business men, contractors, attorneys, judges, and other public officials in most municipalities in years past--it's just that these schmucks got prosecuted while in past decades many of the unprosecuted perpetrators of the pay-to play-practices had buildings, parks and other public places named after them.

Another one of my closest pals at Morgantown was the former Northeast Ohio Sewer Board lawyer, Bill Schatz.  Schatz's crimes are summarized in this Cleveland.com article.  Bill did some rotten crooked financial shit, but here's the thing,  paradoxically, Schatz is a fine person.  And even in his job as the Sewer District lawyer as far as I can see, Bill spent years meticuloously crafting the districts' contracts with builders and others who in turn created an excellent sewer system for the region.  If Schatz was so rotten, why did he serve the district for decades?  How did the district keep costs low while the services were reliable?  Funny, huh?  sure. 

At Morgantown Bill Schatz is teaching GED classes to drug dealers. He helps borderline illiterate guys read and respond to legal paperwork they receive from lawyers and courts.  [Disclosue:  Bill used to wash the sweats Jeff Williamson lent to me]--I don't profess to be in a place to assess the scope of Bill's criminal offenses, or even the appropriateness of his sentence-- afterall, there are sentencing guidelines and reasons to depart upward or downward.  My point is to question certain underlying assumptions, do long prison sentences for older white collar criminals involved in purely financial offenses serve a social or societal purpose?  We are kidding ourselves if we think years in prison for someone like Schatz is corrective, redemptive, or adequately retributive.  My guess is that long prison terms for guys who committed financial felonies is purely and reflexively political and counterproductive in any corrective or social sense (pun, intended.)

Dennis Dooley, another of my Morgantown associates is directly connected to the former Cuyahoga County Auditor, Frank Russo (a Big Cheese, in all of this.)  The feds charged Dooley with trying to buy or bribe his way into a "no-show" job with the Auditor's office according to the article at Cleveland.com.  Dooley argued in Court that he was doing what he learned to do, hustle.  Dooley was a formerly a small business man, an entrepreneur, a networker.  In Dooley's view, he was one of those guys out in the marketplace who conceived of ideas and innovations that created economic activity including jobs.  Sure in hindsight, Dennis sees that the public officials with Cuyahoga County were crooked, but why is Dooley doing 3 years?  How does putting this former business man behind bars (at age 60) achieve any public or social purpose.  Setting aside the devastating impact on Dooley's familly, do we expect that others who learn of his situation to be deterred from trying to hustle benefits, contracts or work from local government.   Yeah, good luck with that.

The president of Mont Granite, Dinesh Bafna, provided a granite counter top to an installer that ended up in auditor Frank Russo's house.  The feds alleged that in turn Dinesh received a tax reassessment on his residence.  He also got 6 months at Morgantown.  Here's the Cleveland.com story.  As I write, my friend Dinesh, a fine and decent man, bunks with drug dealers (and dogs) in a residential unit at Morgantown.  The day before Bafna arrived in prison he was running a successful business employing people from greater-Cleveland and supplying much needed economic activity to the region.  Jailing Dinesh Bafna makes sense, why?

As I go along the road of happy destingy, freed from federal prison  I'll revisit the stories of these Cleveland and other white collar criminals, (Gene Dinatale, a Philadelphia accountant who is the head librarian at Morgantown comes to mind.)  The point is that regardless of whether these gentlemen did or did not commit real financial offenses, large, small or barely worth mentioning should they be doing in some cases lenghty prison sentences.  Each of the guys I met at Morgantown is paying the price, with their loss of reputation, careers, businesses, personal freedom, separation from their families, friends and fortune.   Is there a more reasonable and rational reponse to white collar offenses than imprisonment on the taxpayers' dime? 

Trick question!

13 comments:

  1. They're in prison to frighten others. The risk of going to jail, no matter how slight, is the only thing that deters financial criminals. For a more balanced view on whether they're good guys, why not ask their victims. The fact that they've become prison ass-kissers doesn't mean they've changed. Let them back out and give them a little power and they'll revert to form in no time.

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  2. Crooks are crooks and it makes me angry to think that you are rationalizing not sending the bums to prison. Sorry, Bad Lawyer. I suppose the part of what you saying is true that sentencing is WAY OUT OF HAND. I mean that the taxpayers spend more to send a crook to jail than it costs to send a kid to college for a year is a real problem. So I get the reasoning behind the criticism of locking them up year after year. I don't know about Anon's suggestion about deterrence, imho no one is deterred from committing a crime. Usually, white collar criminals don't think they've done anything wrong until they're caught. The stories Bad Lawyer tells drive that home.

    Jail, restitution, but years and years of prison, come on what's that about?

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  3. AJ & Anon--

    Thanks for the comments. Obviously, I don't rational thinking plays much of a role in the commission of the financial crimes of white collar criminals or the prison sentences. I don't think prison sentences deter--in fact I think basic criminological research dating back decades support my assertion. So while politically, Congress and sentencing commissions and courts may assert that they are acting to deter by lengthy prison sentences to person committing purely financial offenses--they are acting aspirationally.

    Something occurred to me, as I was thinking about "bribery" of public officials. Year after year as a Bad Lawyer I attended fund raisers for Judges running for office, here, in OurState. When the fundraiser was for a sitting judge seeking reelection the fundraiser was usually attended by every criminal defense lawyer in town. Why? Guess. Did they wish to influence the Judge's decision-making? Not a chance.

    No, CDLs attended these fund raisers and passed over checks hoping to collect court appointed assignments. That is, like Dooley in my post they were openly bribing the judge in the hope that the judge was going to "hire" them to represent indigent clients. They still do it. They do it openly, and apparently legally.

    Again, and I made this point repeatedly before I went to prison--some pay all, some pay nothing. Prosecutions are highly selective, often irrational, and you're kidding yourself if you think that some sort of logic pervades all of this...it doesn't. Certainly there is no humanity or reason for lengthy prison sentences for non-violent, financial crime-only offenders.

    BL

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  4. To both of you: Your argument goes something like this: White collar criminals aren't rational (actually, they are the most rational of all criminals), laws don't deter them, so there is no point in prosecuting or jailing them. That's like saying the state should not prosecute anyone who commits a crime unless it can prosecute everyone who commits the same crime. That's the logic of a middle school boy. Fecklessness about law is no answer to prosecutorial inadequacy. If there were no prosecutions, and no white collar criminals ever went to jail, and this was generally known, we would have Hobbes "war of all against all." Things always can get worse. A society must do what it can, not give up.

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  5. Anon--

    Nice, succinct, and logical argument. I simply disagree with your claim that white collar criminals are acting rationally, as a rule. I admit that there are thieves of all sorts involved in all sorts of crimes. There are people with thieving tempraments who rob banks, and who engage in calculated insider-trading. But because a crime is "white collar" doesn't necessarily mean that it was a cold, calculated and depraved act that can be deterred through cold, calculating laws designed "to send a message." And just because an offense is "white collar" does not mean that the offender's conduct was unaffected by drugs, alcohol or mental or emotional illness.

    But that argument aside--while I'm not saying there is no role for punishment, or even incarceration--tell me why these white collar criminals, all non-violent, almost all first time offenders, all economic-only crimes are being punished with prison sentences that are wildly disproportionate to the offense, and any logical social purpose? As with the "crack" laws--the sentences are reactionary and political at best. And as I said consider the cost.

    BL

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  6. Because a white collar criminal would consider a fine simply a cost of doing business and wouldn't be deterred by it. Losing the freedom to go where you want, when you want, and do what you want, can't be cashed out. The white collar thieves I've known or represented would pay almost anything to avoid those kinds of restrictions. They're used to ordering other people around, not being ordered around themselves. Street thugs know how to function in prison and take it much more in stride. Your comments remind me of the way new law students argue, juxtapose a series of factual statements to a series of conclusions without making any analytical moves to connect the two.

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  7. Anon--

    Why do you continue to ignore the question of proportionality? Oh, and at least one of us is making factual observations...

    I do think actual prison time, and all that that represents (nicely summarized by you)strikes fear in the heart of ANY person accused of a crime, innocent or guilty. But again where is the evidence that the consequence has any deterrent effect? Where? Do you happen to have a factual statement to back up your mere assertions connected willy nilly to conclusions or are you shooting blanks?

    I'm wondering what 3 or 4 years in prison is doing for Dr. Roger Pellmann? Yep, even among the white collar criminals there are the truly innocent who didn't deserve a day in jail.

    I have a problem with proportionality, deterrence and actual innocence as it relates to lengthy prison sentences for white collar criminals. With my own eyes, I've seen human resources misused by the Justice system.

    BL

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  8. There's no need to save the Roger Pellmann's of the world BL. There are more than enough people like him to take his place. He had his chance and blew it. Who needs him, or his ilk, in the world at large. I'd take your concern for proportionality in sentencing more seriously if there was some evidence that it represented more than self interest masquerading as policy. Or did I just miss you out there on the parapets railing against the sentencing guidelines when they were being used against ordinary street criminals? Your hypocrisy is showing through your crocodile tears.

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  9. Dr. Roger Pellmann is innocent. His case presents a remarkable example of federal overreach resulting in the destruction of a single man, Milwaukee businesses, and eradication of a workforce because the DEA supplanted their medical opinion over the care of single patient for that of Dr. Pellmann's. It's a remarkable and frightening story.

    You're right I wasn't on a parapet shouting about sentencing guidelines. I only vaguely knew anything about sentencing guidelines not being a CDL. If you were there as you seem to suggest that you were, thank you. The sentencing guidelines are preposterous not the least for the reason you suggested, and that is a topic for a future post or series of posts. I'm not sure how not being out on the parapet makes me a hypocrite. While you were out on the parapet shouting about sentencing guidelines I was one of the first lawyers in the United States shouting at a disbelievingh world about the sexual abuse of children especially by priests and specifically uncovering some of the earliest evidence of systematic cover up by the agent of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. My work is documented, in part, in the Boston Globe's history of the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal in America. Sorry, but I just didn't have time to get to that other parapet.

    I'm trying to reasonably talk about a subject that I saw first hand for the last 5 months. I think my experiences uniquely equip me to speak about some striking examples of individuals undergoing remarkable consequences that do not seem to align with their offenses. I was not a CDL, I do not bring a CDL's insights to the experience, but I do bring legal training and actual contact with some of the actors in what is currently passing for the prosecutorial priorities in the United States.

    BL

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  10. The point, since you seem to have missed it, is not that you had to make reform of criminal sentencing policy your life's work. Going after the Catholic Church for its dishonorable attempts to deny and cover up institutionalized pedophilia is important enough. The point is that choosing one's life projects based on what hits closest to home is a form of megalomaniacal myopia commonly associated with the reformed sinner. And Just as it isn't smart to follow such a person down the road of sin in the first instance, it is no smarter to follow him down the road of an antidotal crusade in the second. In the language of the Sixties (more or less), Ride on!

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  11. Anon--

    Thanks for posting your thoughts--on the other hand I think you might be confusing the blog format for something it is not. It's not legal scholarship, even some of the better written sholarly websites lack the indices of peer review--so while I read wonderful legal and sholarly writing online most of what's online is "megalomaniacal myopia." And the Bad Lawyer blawg was never intended for specialist reeading--on the contrary, while I'm flattered that lawyers, judges, journos, and on occasion scholarly-types communicate or comment the Bad Lawyer is MY blog from a specific point of view.

    Nonetheless I underwent an indisputably transformational experience and encountered astonishing situations with inmates I relate to as members of a cohort by virtue of education, social background and profession. I formed certain impressions and opinions based on these upclose experiences that most people, let alone lawyers get to experience. I did not take a CDL background into jail, I took the story-telling narrative skills of a civil trial lawyer into and out of jail. It's possible (although, not certain) that somewhere down the road my law license will be reinstated. These last few years of my life will inform not only what I relate, here, but how I go forward in whatever professional role I am permitted to resume going forward.

    I value your insight but I think it's safe to say we have different perspectives.

    BL

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  12. It was a remarkable experience to write this blawg and subsequently end up in prison with some of the subjects/criminals in the stories I wrote about, or linked to. Criminal Attorney NY

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  13. Let me tell you something about Roger Pellman BL. Not only did he supply drugs to his junkie nurse to the tune of 14,000 viles of Phentynal missing from a practice that only used around 250 the year before he administered to patients when he was ordered by the court not to. He tried to use anothers doctors DEA number to get drugs and changed suppliers frequently because he knew they'd catch on to him. Also this slime bag cheated investors out of $600,000 that they invested with him while he was paying his junkie nurse $120,000 and year to do nothing, her friend $80,000 an year to also do nothing and her brother $55,000 to make coffee. Oh yeah, his junkie nurse Jackie Evans and her brother Brian Evans also had company cars. He's is the lowest form of human life that there is. He was totally guilty and should have gotten life in prison. You BL know nothing of this man.

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