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February 26, 2011

Former prisoners as consultants to prison-bound white-collar offenders

This interesting Chicago Tribune piece, headline "Ex-cons offer prison primers for soon-to-be incarcerated execs," reports on the "handful of consultants nationwide who gear their [sentencing and prison advice] services toward a white-collar population that includes mortgage fraudsters, tax evaders and Ponzi-schemers."  Here are some of the details:

The cottage industry is dominated by ex-offenders, retired jailhouse employees and advocates who support prison alternatives.  High-profile cases during the 1980s and '90s, including the prosecutions of corporate raider Ivan Boesky and former junk bond financier Michael Milken — both of whom used prison consultants — have helped heighten awareness.

Some criminal defense attorneys remain skeptical, and question whether the consultants can deliver what they promise.  But today's economic downturn has provided no shortage of work.

John Webster, a former attorney who served time in federal prison after lying for a client, started the Nashville, Tenn.-based National Prison and Sentencing Consultants in 2002.  At first, few people had heard of his industry.  "Now it's gotten to where a lot of people see the need and the benefit," he said.  "With the meltdown of the real estate industry, we had a lot more mortgage brokers who were getting indicted."  He charges $3,500 to $10,000 for prison coaching.

Some consultants are flashy, like ex-convict Larry Levine, whose Los Angeles-based operation asks on its website: "Going from the Exchange Floor to the Prison Yard?" Levine's clients include a former Highland Park couple, Robert and Virginia Carter, convicted in a $17 million embezzlement and money laundering case, according to news reports and Levine himself.

At the other end of the spectrum is Baltimore-based social worker Herbert Hoelter, who founded the nonprofit National Center on Institutions and Alternatives in 1977.  Bernard Madoff turned to him for help when he pleaded guilty in 2009 to one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in history, Hoelter said....

Some consultants try to strengthen a defendant's presentencing request to be enrolled in a 500-hour federal drug and alcohol abuse program, which can result in a shorter prison stint.  Others document medical reasons that argue why an inmate needs a lower bunk or special diet....

Before reporting to prison, offenders often have questions that lawyers can't answer about the daily prison routines, said Jeff Steinback, a prominent Chicago defense lawyer who represented Scott Fawell, Gov. George Ryan's closest political adviser, who pleaded guilty to mail fraud.  "There is a place for that kind of advice, as long as it is well-intended and not simply a business," Steinback said.  He typically pairs a newly sentenced defendant with someone who has already served time, to prepare them for incarceration....

Chris Burke, spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, said that he is not aware of any influence that consultants have on prison assignments.  And some defense attorneys question the effectiveness of a prison consultant, pointing out that information about the ins-and-outs of prison life can be found online.

February 26, 2011 at 11:42 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Heh, that last line is just great.

Sorry, but I'm guessing being able to talk with someone who has actually been there has a lot more impact than reading words on a screen or a piece of paper. Could it be that the defense lawyers don't like this because it diverts some part of the money stream they hope to tap?

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Feb 26, 2011 5:00:58 PM

It is becoming the case where we should almost assume that most execs are of the criminal types. Such a shame.

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Posted by: Sarah "How Do I Have A Girl" Smith | Jul 8, 2011 10:56:50 AM

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