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November 15, 2020

Granting of compassionate release reduces ridiculous federal sentence by hundreds of years

This CNN piece, headlined "Grandfather serving 505-year sentence ordered to be released 'without delay'," reports on a recent grant of compasionate release to reduce a sentence that would seem like a joke if it had not been real.  Here are some of the details:

In a stunning reprieve for a man sentenced to more than five centuries behind bars for a nonviolent offense, a judge in Los Angeles on Thursday summarily slashed his sentence to time served and ordered his immediate release.

Juan Carlos Seresi, a convicted money launderer whose projected release date from the federal Bureau of Prisons had been July 8, 2419, was suddenly ordered to be freed "without delay" by U.S. District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson.  Once out, Seresi will be subject to a three-year term of supervised release, according to Wilson's order.

"It's a miracle," Seresi said after hearing the news from his daughter, Patti Mawer, she told CNN.  Mawer, 46, said her father has been behind bars since she was a teenager, but has remained an integral part of her family's life.  "After all this praying and all this hoping, he can't believe it," Mawer added.

Seresi, 73, was one of four defendants sentenced to 505 years behind bars in 1991 for laundering cocaine cartel cash who were featured in a CNN report published in August.  The article noted how the sentences were considered harsh even back then and represent the sort of draconian punishment that has since been widely condemned amid a national conversation around justice reform.

When the case was before Wilson in August, he denied a request by prosecutors to overturn the men's convictions "in the interests of justice" due to special treatment given to a government witness by FBI agents that was not disclosed to the defense.  Wilson conducted a months-long review into the matter and concluded that the men's convictions were sufficiently supported by evidence and testimony unrelated to that particular witness.  All four defendants filed an appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is pending.

But Seresi's attorneys also filed a motion seeking his release on compassionate grounds, due in part to his advanced age and a diagnosis of high blood pressure making him susceptible to serious complications from Covid-19.  Prosecutors in the US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles did not oppose the motion.

While Wilson found that those factors alone did not entitle Seresi to early release, he noted other factors that — taken together — amounted to "extraordinary and compelling reasons" for granting his freedom.  Seresi was convicted of a nonviolent offense, had already served more than 30 years behind bars, earned three associate degrees while incarcerated and had a near spotless disciplinary record, the judge noted.

November 15, 2020 at 11:05 PM | Permalink


Doug: I have long been hoping that my friend Sholam Weiss, who has a 535 year sentence for non-violent white collar crimes (M.D. Fla.) will receive Compassionate Release or a Presidential commutation. He has about 20 years in on his sentence, and many health problems.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Nov 16, 2020 6:46:57 AM

"But Seresi's attorneys also filed a motion seeking his release on compassionate grounds, due in part to his advanced age and a diagnosis of high blood pressure making him susceptible to serious complications from Covid-19. Prosecutors in the US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles did not oppose the motion."

That tells you everything you need to know to my mind. Judges still will routinely grant CR to individuals if the line prosecutor (AUSA) does not oppose. They wield more power than anyone recognizes.

Posted by: Zachary Newland | Nov 16, 2020 10:54:08 AM

When I read his initial news story, I really thought there was a typo - maybe they meant 50 or 55 year sentence. Now, 505 years for a non-violent, albeit serious money laundering case connected to a cartel, seems quite harsh. I also think Zachary you make a good point - it would be interesting to see the rates of success for a defendant attempting a compassionate release with and without the AUSA's backing.

Posted by: atomicfrog | Nov 16, 2020 11:25:40 AM

Doug has posted about the Compassionate Release granted about 6 months ago to accomplished jailhouse lawyer Chad Marks, who former Judge Gleeson and his firm, Debevoise and Plimpton, came in to represent pro bono). The District Judge (W.D.N.Y.) cut Chad's sentence (which included section 924(c) gun stacking consecutive sentences) to 20 years from 40 years. With good conduct credits, Chad was released from prison (after serving about 18 years) within 2 months. His prosecutors despised him and did everything they could to try to dissuade his Judge from granting him any relief. They even accused Chad of having been caught with a SIM card holder in his Bible in prison. But Chad produced a copy of the disciplinary Incident report associated with those events, which showed that it was his Cell Mate who was charged and convicted of possessing the SIM card holder, not Chad. As Chad was being walked to the gate of his prison for release (FMC - Lexington, Ky.) he was turned around and taken back, because the prosecutor had obtained a Stay of the District Court Judge's Order, pending appeal. A few weeks later, when the 3-Judge panel reviewed the request for a Stay, they reversed the single Judge who had originally granted the Stay, an Chad was finally released from prison. Chad's appeal has been argued orally now at the 2nd Circuit, and he is, to my knowledge, awaiting the panel's decision. It seems unlikely that he will have to return to prison. Prosecutors do indeed wield hefty power and discretion, but they can be defeated in cases with the right facts.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Nov 16, 2020 1:11:01 PM

Doug: There something very strange about the grant of Compassionate Release to Juan Carlos Seresi. Judge Wilson did not write and file the normal Memorandum Opinion and Order granting the Motion. Instead, the Motion was granted by a MINUTE ORDER, IN CHAMBERS. It says that the Order is effective on Friday, November 13th, and that the defendant should be released from prison then. Rather than file a Response Brief, the Government filed a Notice that it did not oppose the granting of the Motion for Compassionate Release. The Government also filed several papers under seal, which we will never get to see. I have never seen relief of this magnitude granted by a MINUTE ORDER, IN CHAMBERS, with no Memorandum Opinion and Order. There is more going on behind the scenes here than the public will ever get to know. See, "United States v. Andonian, et al.", Case No. 2:1989-cr-00190-250304 (C. D. Cal.)(Docket #1417).

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Nov 16, 2020 3:20:32 PM

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