January 22, 2012
Effective coverage of the high costs of sex offender civil commitment program in Washington state
The Seattle Times has a very interesting set of pieces today discussing the intricate procedures and high (runaway?) costs involved in the operation of Washington's now-two-decades-old civil commitment program for sex offenders. This paper and its reporters merit kudos for conducting this in-depth investigation of the longest-running sex offender civil commitment program, and it will be interesting to see how policy-makers respond to a report that seems likely to prompt a political firestorm.
The lead piece, available here, has this headline and subheading: "State wastes millions helping sex predators avoid lockup: Washington's civil-commitment program that shields society from the worst sex offenders is burdened with unchecked legal costs and secrecy, The Seattle Times has found." Here are excerpts from the start of this lengthy article:
In 1990, Washington became the first state to pass a civil-commitment law, detaining offenders who are deemed by a judge or a jury to be too dangerous to set free. Since then, the controversial program has been plagued by runaway legal costs, a lack of financial oversight and layers of secrecy, The Seattle Times has found.
The state has little or no control over the $12 million a year in legal bills — nearly one-quarter of the [Special Commitment Center's] budget. This results in overbilling and waste of taxpayer money at a time when the agency overseeing the center, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), faces deep budget cuts.
The civil-commitment law has created a cottage industry of forensic psychologists who have been paid millions of dollars for evaluating sex offenders and testifying across the state.
The Times determined that the busiest and best-paid experts include two psychologists who were fired in California, another who has flown here at state taxpayer expense from his New Zealand home, and one who has been paid $1.2 million over two years, some of it for work on cases in which judges questioned his credibility.
Defense teams have hired multiple psychologists — each charging tens of thousands of dollars — for a single case. In at least eight King County cases, the public paid for three or more forensic experts to evaluate the offender or testify for the defense. The state typically hired one expert. Both sides accuse each other of expert shopping.
Defense lawyers repeatedly delay trials, seeking continuances and appeals, which push costs up. In King County, it takes on average 3.5 years for a commitment case to go to trial; several have taken close to a decade. Meanwhile, offenders are held at McNeil Island, by far the most expensive confinement in the state at $173,000 a year per resident.
It takes up to $450,000 in legal costs to civilly commit a sex offender in King County. Defense outspends prosecution almost 2-to-1, says David Hackett, prosecutor in charge of civil commitments.
How some of the money is spent is a mystery. King County judges, at the request of defense attorneys who cited lawyer-client privilege, have indefinitely sealed hundreds of documents authorizing funds for defense experts. The Times fought successfully to get many of these records unsealed, which included psychologists' names and their fees. Hackett said the program needs a financial overhaul. "It's a morass," he said. "We've left the door to the candy store wide open."
Here are links to some of the companion pieces run with this lead article:
- Sex offenders' legal costs were kept secret from public
- Timeline: Evolution of Washington's troubled civil-commitment program
- Graphic: How a sex offender gets committed to McNeil Island
By serving federal prosecutors, Galleon trader avoids serving prison time
This Bloomberg article, headlined "Ex-Galleon Trader Slaine Who Led U.S. to Probe Rajaratnam Gets Probation," provides a great example of the sentencing reality that cooperating with federal prosecutors can often provide the most effective means for serious criminals to avoid spending time in federal prison. Here are some of the details of the latest sentencing from a high-profile white-collar case:
Ex-Galleon Group LLC trader David Slaine, who helped lead U.S. authorities to investigate the hedge fund firm’s co-founder, Raj Rajaratnam, was sentenced to three years probation for securities fraud.
Slaine wore a wire to record dozens of conversations with suspects including ex-Galleon trader Zvi Goffer who were later charged with insider trading. He provided help that prosecutors from the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called “nothing short of extraordinary.”
U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan, who sentenced Slaine yesterday in Manhattan federal court, also ordered him to perform 300 hours of community service and pay a $500,000 fine. Sullivan praised Slaine’s cooperation, which began in 2007. “Mr. Slaine, you have your life back,” Sullivan said at the end of the sentencing hearing. “I think you’ve earned it, by virtue of the work you’ve done over the last five years.”
Slaine’s evidence helped spur what became the biggest probe of insider trading at hedge funds, prosecutors said in a letter to Sullivan this month. His lawyer, Stephen Kaufman, said Slaine already has paid $836,000 in criminal forfeitures and to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Slaine is now an investor at Spot, a Manhattan-based chain that provides training, grooming and daycare for dogs, according to Kaufman. Slaine also works there, Kaufman said....
Slaine, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and securities fraud in December 2009, testified at the trial of Goffer, his brother Emanuel Goffer and Michael Kimelman, that he cooperated with federal agents for about 2 1/2 years to try to avoid prison. He faced a sentence of as long as 25 years in prison. Slaine testified that he became friends in the late 1980s or early 1990s with Craig Drimal, another former trader who pleaded guilty....
The SEC claimed Slaine used illegal inside information to trade for his own account and for Chelsey Capital. He made more than 20 trades in his own account based on illegal tips, personally profiting by more than $500,000. Both sides agreed for sentencing purposes that the total illegal gain attributable to Slaine was $2.5 million to $7 million.
Slaine was approached by the government in July 2007, according to the letter. He told investigators about possible insider trading by Drimal, then agreed to wear a wire and record conversations with him. The conversations with Drimal led to the Goffers and Kimelman, whom Slaine also recorded at the direction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, prosecutors said.