Who is Larry Noodles?

Who is Larry Noodles?

“Larry Noodles” is the nickname I got when I was an inmate at Otisville Federal prison.  My real name is Lawrence Dressler.  I had stolen a pound of spiral noodles from the prison warehouse where I had worked for 13 cents an hour.  I cooked the noodles in a plastic bag, with a teaspoon of salt and a small amount of water.  The noodles steamed in the microwave.  I let them sit out for a few hours while they softened.  I took them back to the cubicles where the inmates slept.  I hid the noodles in a bag that hung from the wall of my cubicle.  I hung my coat over the noodles in order to hide them from the guards.  I went outside and sat in the sun near the parking lot in order to get a sun tan, even though it was the fall.  A Russian inmate named Dima walked by and scolded me for sitting so close to the parking lot, he warned me that I could get in trouble.  I was clearly within the boundary and was not in the parking lot.  I should have listened to Dima.

On November 23, 2014 Senior Specialist Officer S. Grogan saw me and thought I was involved in criminal activity, ie., smuggling contraband from visitors near the parking lot.  Grogan searched me.  I was clean.  Grogan then went to my cubicle and searched.  Grogan found the bag of noodles.  Grogan interrogated me about the noodles.  I told him I found them in the dining area.  Grogan said that the kitchen staff said that they never use spiral noodles.  Grogan said that I must have stolen the noodles from the warehouse where I worked.  Grogan was very upset about the noodles.  I mistakenly thought that Grogan would calm down if I told him that I thought I could bring the noodles to the bunks from the warehouse.  When the guys heard that I ratted myself out to Grogan they got very mad at me.  What kind of shlocky lawyer rats himself out to the Feds?

Grogan wrote up a disciplinary report.  I was moved from my bunk and put in a different bunk in a less desirable location.  I lost visitor privileges for a short period of time.  Grogan tagged my bag of noodles and put it in his office as evidence of my crime.  After Grogan left for the day another officer took over.  Officer Krandal sat in the office for the night shift.  Krandal got along well with the inmates.  An inmate named Jewmark took the bag of noodles out of the office and brought it to me, as a gesture of kindness.  I don’t know whether Jewmark snuck it out of the office or whether Krandal let him take it. I thanked Jewmark for the noodles but told him that I was in no mood to eat noodles that evening.   

I was locked up in the Otisville prison camp for 18 months after I pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mortgage fraud. I was one of many closing attorneys in seven real estate closings located in New Haven involving subprime mortgages.  These transactions occurred in the fall of 2007 and one in the spring of 2008, just as the real estate market crashed. 

On October 5, 2010 the Justice Department faxed a subpoena to me requesting copies of these closing files.  My attorney told me I had nothing to worry about, as the Justice Department was issuing subpoenas all over the country looking at subprime mortgages that were in default after the market crash. When someone tells you that you have nothing to worry about, you should start to worry.  It is true that the Feds were serving subpoenas all over New Haven related to the subprime mortgage mess.  I was one of many.   

In early February of 2014 the Justice Department contacted my attorney and said that they wanted to indict me for mortgage fraud.  They also said that I could cooperate.  They said that if I cooperated I would still have to plead guilty to a felony and probably do some jail time, depending on the sentencing judge.  They wanted me to rat out two other attorneys who I did closings with back in 2007.  I didn’t remember much about a couple of closings, which didn’t take more than a couple of hour, that I did many years before.   Nor did I remember much about closing attorneys from the Levinson Law Office whom the Feds wanted me to rat out.  Plus I didn’t see any point in cooperating if I wasn’t offered much in return. 

I was indicted on February 22, 2013.  I pleaded guilty to mortgage fraud on October 3, 2013.  I was sentenced on March 20, 2014.  I turned myself in to Otisville prison on May 21, 2014.  I was released on November 2, 2015. 

The Feds added up the gross amount of the mortgages that went under in my conspiracy and came up with a loss amount of $1.6 million dollars for the purposes of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, as well as for the purposes of it’s press release.  This “gross” loss amount put me in a sentencing guidelines range of between 4 – 5 years incarceration.  Most of the banks did not make any claims for restitution.  I ultimately was jointly responsible for a restitution order of about $400K payable to Wells Fargo Bank.  I pay $300 a month towards the restitution order.  

Although my restitution order is $400K, I only made about $4K in legal fees for the seven closings in which I pleaded guilty.  There were numerous individuals in my case, who made hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit profits, who were never indicted.  For example, one of the straw buyers used by the ringleaders of my conspiracy, named Ronald Holder, never got indicted.  The sellers whom I represented, Israelis who controlled a local real estate company called Team Realty, never got charged even though they profited with hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit profits.  I had no idea that these “respectable” real estate investors were selling run down properties to straw buyers who had no intention of making the mortgage payments.  Had I known I would have never represented these shyster idiots.  

The other individuals involved in my case, my co-conspirators, all cooperated with the Federal government and planned to testify against me if I went to trial.  My attorney told me that it was hopeless to go to trial.  I thought I had some good defenses.  I mostly represented the sellers in the transactions. I never held any deposit checks, I never signed any HUD forms and I didn’t even calculate the closing figures.  The buyer’s attorney, and his secretary, did most of the work.  The buyer’s attorney was part of a larger conspiracy with a local realtor, named Levitin, who was singled out by the Feds as the ringleader.  Levitin also cooperated with the Feds.  Levitin was looking at ten years in jail if he didn’t rat anyone out.  I can’t really blame him for coping a deal.  The Feds have far too much power to force a guy to say whatever he thinks the Feds want him to say.  If the Feds can indict a ham sandwich I was pastrami on rye.  

Levitin was one of many leaders of small gangs of guys who searched out unscrupulous sellers and straw buyers in order to inflate property values and cash in on large bank loans.  The straw buyers just had to have a good credit score.  The buyers could apply for  “stated income / no doc” loans from such big, “respectable” banks such as Wells Fargo.  A buyer could claim that he was a self employed barber earning $150K a year on a stated income loan application with no requirement of income verification.  A guy like Levitin would find 5 or 10 three family properties for the barber to purchase.  Levitin would get the sellers to inflate the value of the properties, which would increase the loan amounts. Levitin would tell the barber that he had a management company that would collect the rents, pay the mortgage and keep up the properties.  Levitin would get kickbacks at the closings from the sellers, who were selling run down properties at five times their value.  Levitin would bribe the appraiser to submit a false appraisal to the bank.  Levitin would then find an unsuspecting lawyer to do these closings and tell the lawyer that Levitin had the deposit checks and would issue the credits to the seller, which would be reflected on the HUD forms, which were submitted by the closing lawyer to the bank.  In many cases the lawyer didn’t know that the credits were fictional.  Or in other cases the lawyer erroneously thought that the large credits didn’t have to be listed on the HUD form because it was a friendly sale and the sellers and buyers agreed to the offsets.  There were many inexperienced lawyers doing these closings, as the closing business all of sudden took off.  Eventually the lawyer would catch on to the scam and get cold feet.  Levitin would find another lawyer.  In my case there were numerous lawyers who did a number of closings for these gangs, and then turned them away after doing 10 or 20 or 30.  Most of these lawyers never got indicted.  The Federal Government knew that the attorneys were not the most culpable parties in these transactions, especially when compared with all the other fraud going on.  If you look at the cases nationwide you can see that close to half the people indicted were closing attorneys.  In my case almost half the people indicted were closing attorneys.  None of the banks who approved millions of dollars in loans to self employed barbers with no doc / no income verification loans, got indicted.  None of the sellers, who made hundreds of thousands of ill begotten gains got indicted in my case.  The New Haven Independent questioned why none of the sellers got indicted.  In my case I recall seeing the names of numerous local attorneys under scrutiny, who were never indicted, such as attorneys Alderman, Levinson, Speigel, Romania, Yolan, Trachten…  I guess the Feds didn’t have enough jails for everyone. At least a third of the people sitting in Otisville while I was there were closing attorneys.    

The problem with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines is that the loss amounts drive the years you are exposed to incarceration.  The way your losses are calculated can make a huge difference in your jail sentence.  It is very important that your attorney calculate your Guidelines loss numbers that is most beneficial to your case, and argue against the calculation proposed by the Federal government.  In my case the Assistant US Attorney David Tien Wei Huang added up the amount of each mortgage and came up with a figure of about $1.7 million.  This is the figure that gets reported to the press.  Huang then deducted the amount of monies that the banks recovered from foreclosure sales and came up with a figure of $1.1 million.  This is the figure that he argued was the Sentencing Guidelines figure that should be used for sentencing purposes.  If my losses were under $1 million I would have been in the 2-3 year guidelines range.  One penny over $1 million and I get jacked up to 4-5 years.  My lawyer asked Huang if he would reduce the loss figures to under a million.  Huang refused to reduce the numbers to under $1 million. After I pleaded guilty Huang sent out letters to the banks that underwrote these mortgages asking the banks to submit claims for final losses.  Wells Fargo submitted loss amounts that totaled $400K for two of its loans.  The other banks failed to respond.  The final loss figure was $400K.  This figure was never reported to the media by the Justice Department.  My lawyer never objected to Huang’s guidelines calculations.  My lawyer could have argued the following:  “By making a Guidelines sentence turn, for all practical purposes, on the amount of monetary loss or gain occasioned by the offense, the Sentencing Commission effectively ignored the statutory requirement that federal sentencing take many factors into account, and, by contrast, effectively guaranteed that many such sentences would be irrational on their face.” US v. Gupta, 904 F. Supp. 2d at 351; United States v. Caspersen, No. 16-CR-00414 (JSR) (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 4, 2016) (loss amount contributing 22 of 34 total Guidelines offense-level points should not “occupy . . . , as it does in so many guideline cases, such an inordinate position, overwhelming every other factor”); Derick R. Vollrath, Note, Losing the Loss Calculation: Toward a More Just Sentencing Regime in White-Collar Criminal Cases, 59 Duke L.J. 1001, 1023–25 (2010) (Guidelines’ emphasis on loss “fail[s] to accurately reflect a defendant’s culpability”).  My culpability was admittedly minor, according to US Attorney Huang, compared to the culpability of my co-conspirators. 

My attorney never objected to Huang’s calculations of losses.  For example, on one closing I did the bank foreclosed against a straw buyer named Ronald Jones, who submitted false loan applications, and other false documents to the bank.  Jones was never indicted.  After Wells Fargo foreclosed the bank submitted an appraisal to the foreclosure judge in which the bank valued the property located at 279 Norton Street at $233K.  The losses logically should be the difference between the mortgage amount, which was $343K and $233K, which would equal $110K.  The bank sat on the property for 5 months and ended up selling it for only $100K to a Levitin owned LLC, the same person whom the bank had reported to the Justice Department as a mortgage fraudster in a suspicious activity report, at a steep discount.  The bank filed documents in the foreclosure case asking for a deficiency judgment to recover money against Ronald Jones, but never requested a hearing.   US Attorney Huang subtracted $101K from the loan amount of $343K and came up with a loss figure of $241K.  My attorney should have argued that the loss figure should have been $100K and not $241K.  My attorney should have argued that the bank didn’t mitigate its damages in the foreclosure.  On another Ronald Jones owned property at 363 Ellsworth the Wells Fargo mortgage amount was $252K.  Huang subtracted the fire sale price of $91K and came up with a figure of $160K as the loss amount.  At the foreclosure the bank submitted an appraisal showing the value of the property at $200K.  Wells Fargo ended up selling it for $91K a mere four months later to a Levitin owned entity. My attorney should have argued that the loss amount should have been $109K, the difference between $200K and 91K, not the $160K figure that Huang came up with, especially where the bank failed to mitigate its losses, by failing to pursue monies against Ronald Jones, who was never indicted, in the foreclosure case.  My lawyer could have argued that the bank had unclean hands in that it was selling properties to the same person whom it reported in suspicious activity reports to the Justice Department.  My attorney could have argued that Wells approved mortgages that it knew were fraudulent and was more akin to a co-conspirator than a defendant.  Co-conspirators are not permitted to collect restitution damages in a criminal case under the MRVA.  I don’t know if my attorney would have won these arguments, but I will never know because my attorney never made these arguments.  Other attorneys in cases related to me made such arguments, ironically these attorneys were Federal public Defenders, who were paid by the Government.  Had I claimed poverty and applied for a Federal Public Defender I would have received better representation than private counsel!  Unbelievable! 

In 2018 Wells Fargo Bank, the victim in my case, entered into an agreement to pay the Justice Department over $2 billion to settle a lawsuit where Wells was sued for violations of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery And Enforcement Act, the Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the Injunctions Against Fraud Act, negligence, gross negligence, unjust enrichment, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, misrepresentation, deceit, fraud, and aiding and abetting.  One of the mortgages I closed was included in the settlement with Wells. I have tried to get my criminal case reopened in Federal court on the legal grounds that a victim of my crime cannot also be a co-conspirator. It is clear under the Mandatory Victim’s Restitution Act that I should not have to pay restitution to a co-conspirator.   I haven’t had any luck with my motion.  I recently lost my motion on other legal grounds, ie., there is a time limit to reopen an old case.  US Attorney Huang could have agreed that it was unfair that I had to pay restitution to Wells Fargo, and agreed to adjust my restitution order.  FUHGETABOUTIT!  

At the time I was sentenced my lawyer could have argued the following:  The Department of Justice failed to indict Wells Fargo Bank despite having knowledge that widespread financial fraud in the subprime mortgage industry would not have been possible without the participation of large financial institutions. The Government waited to obtain hundreds of guilty pleas, restitution orders and forfeiture orders against individuals before it commenced civil fraud actions against large financial institutions, such as Wells Fargo, which resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars in civil fines, penalties and settlements.  The Department of Justice failed to disclose the role of Wells Fargo Bank as my co-conspirator when restitution orders were entered against me. The Department of Justice failed to disclose that Wells Fargo Bank was the victim as well as the perpetrator of financial fraud at the time that the restitution orders entered against me.   Any order entered under the Mandatory Victim’s Restitution Act that has the effect of treating coconspirators as ‘victims, and thereby requires restitutionary payments to the perpetrators of the offense of conviction, contains an error so fundamental and so adversely reflecting on the public reputation of the judicial proceedings that we may, and do, deal with it sua sponte.”  US v. Reifler, 446 F.3d 65, 127 (2006); USA v. Connolly, et al 16-cr-00370 CM (At sentencing of Defendant Connolly US District Judge Colleen McMahon stated: “I cannot make Mr. Connolly and Mr. Black the scapegoats for the entire industry.”  See Bloomberg news release 10/24/19.   McMahon “sharply criticizing U.S. prosecutors for treating the two men as proxy wrongdoers for a much larger scheme.”  Reuters news release 10/24/19. Connelly was sentenced to home confinement and a $400,000.00 fine on 10/24/19 after the Department of Justice recommended 151-188 months incarceration and a $3 million fine.   

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines impose joint and several liability on all co-conspirators for losses without taking into account proportionate liability, in most cases. Its similar to when everyone in a bank robbery conspiracy gets charged with felony murder even though only one guy in the conspiracy killed someone in the bank. My co-conspirator Levitin recruited the straw buyers, unscrupulous sellers, shady appraisers, and mortgage brokers, and put together all the deals.  According to the Justice Department he was the leader of the gang, the ringleader, who did most of the work.  I spent less than an hour on each of the seven closings I pleaded guilty to.  The US Attorney never claimed that I knew anything about false appraisals, phony pay stubs and fraudulent mortgage applications.  My liability was limited to knowing that the buyers and sellers gave each other large credits off the HUD forms, ie., off the books, even though I didn’t even sign 6 of the 7 HUD forms, nor was I required to sign such forms.  I had no legal relationship with the banks. I didn’t even prepare the paperwork, the attorney for the buyer prepared almost everything. The seller’s attorneys does next to nothing, other than cutting checks.  At the time I pleaded guilty I didn’t understand the intricacies of Federal criminal law with regard to mortgage fraud.  Its not easy to know everything there is to know about a complicated white collar Federal prosecution, even for a seasoned criminal defense attorney.  My attorney should have filed a motion to dismiss the charges for those six closings.  Hindsight is 20-20 vision. 

I may have won on the motion to dismiss, or I may have lost.  I will never know because my attorney never filed the motion.  My attorney did minimal work on my case.   Most criminal defense attorneys in white collar Federal cases charge upwards of $200K just to hammer out a plea bargain.  I didn’t pay my attorney anything near that amount.  Even if I had there is no guarantee that I would have got a better result.  To charge a client $200K to work out a plea deal is a complete rip off.  I knew guys in Otisville who mortgaged their houses and borrowed from their families in order to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for their defense.  I read their transcripts.  They hired the most reputable attorneys in Connecticut.  I couldn’t believe the poor defense they received for the money.  I was shocked.  I was too proud, and embarrassed, to ask friends and relatives to give me $200K for an attorney. 

Most people think that there is an oversupply of lawyers in this country.  There is no shortage of lawyers willing to provide legal services to the wealthy.  There is no shortage of lawyers in the area of personal injury law, ie., car accidents, work related injuries, slip and falls, medical malpractice.  The big personal injury law firms are run by shrewd businessmen.  They work on contingency fees so they have an incentive to settle your case rather than go to trial  Plus they have a high overhead devoted to advertising.  There is a huge shortage of lawyers for the working poor and the middle class in the area of Federal and State criminal defense and family law.  If you make too much money to qualify for Legal Aid in family cases, or the Public Defender’s Office you are not going to obtain high quality legal services in highly contested family cases, or State or Federal criminal cases.  If you are indigent the Federal Public Defender’s Office provides you with a very good defense.  If they cannot represent you because of a shortage of staff attorneys they will refer you to a highly qualified private attorney who bills the Federal government.  The Federal Government provides decent reimbursement to attorneys.  Some of the best attorneys in the State are on this list.  You best strategy is to declare bankruptcy after you get indicted and apply for a Federal Public Defender.  The State of Connecticut’s Public Defenders Office is completely underfunded.  The public defenders office lack the manpower to provide you with a decent defense, unless you are a high profile defendant.  The Chief Public Defender will handle your case and provide you with a good defense.  Everyone else gets stuck with the public defenders on staff, or gets referred to private attorneys who are paid very low fees, at times bordering on minimum wage when the State pays a flat rate for a case.  I used to get referrals from the State Public Defender’s Office. For many years I worked for minimum wage until I started doing lucrative closings, which got me into trouble.  

One problem in the criminal justice system is the increase in plea bargains. Prosecutors have broad authority to decide when and which criminal charges to bring. In a system in which over 95 percent of cases are resolved without trial, these charging decisions are almost always determinative of case outcomes.  Scholars have complained that defendants are forced into plea bargains because they don’t have the money to mount a vigorous defense.  Plus the prosecutors trump up the charges in order to force a plea bargain.  If you lose at trial the prosecutor will ask for triple the jail time as you would get in a plea bargain.  The judges punish defendants who elect to go to trial and ends up losing.  The attitude is that you wasted court resources with a lengthy trial. 

My attorney had no interest in fighting the charges.  He took my retainer and wanted me to plead guilty.  He didn’t file a motion to dismiss, a motion to sever, or any other substantive motion that is normally filed if you are planning to go to trial.  I asked him to file a motion to sever.  He ignored my request.  He wanted to the least amount of work possible for the retainer.  If I didn’t like it I could hire another attorney and he would keep my retainer.  It would be impossible to get my retainer back because lawyers can always pad their bills with time for “legal research” and “file review.”  He convinced me that under Federal criminal law liability attaches to “negligent” conduct.  He said that the Feds only had to prove that I was negligent, which is not entirely true.  Evidence of negligence is admissible on Federal crimes but the Feds still have to prove that I had the requisite intent to commit the crime.  At the time I was too stressed out and frightened to switch lawyers.  Plus I didn’t have $100K to pay another attorney.  My attorney assured me that I would be fine because I only did 7 closings.  The Judge would see the small role I played and cut me a break, despite what the prosecutors were saying. My attorney’s representation of me unfortunately is representative of many criminal defense attorneys. They don’t want to go to trial unless you have enormous amounts of money to spend on their fees, regardless of whether you are innocent.  Even if you have all the money in the world, the odds of you getting a very good attorney for the money in a Federal criminal case is rare.  Most attorneys are either out of their league or they are former Federal prosecutors and won’t put up a big fight with their former colleagues at the Justice Department. There is a general attitude among criminal defense attorneys that your client is guilty and is going to jail anyway, so the best course of action is to try to hammer out a quick deal.  When this is the prevailing attitude the prosecutors get to set the parameters for all the sentences.  Nobody gets a break.   

US Attorney Huang could have evaluated my case and concluded that I had a limited role in the conspiracy, and charged me accordingly, regardless of the fact that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines gave him the power to give me the max.  Just because you have the power doesn’t mean you should use it.  Huang decided not to cut me a break.  It’s possible he was just following orders.  Advancement decisions in any prosecutor’s office is dependent on the number of notches you have on your stick. Prosecutors are no different than cops.  When a cop pulls you over for speeding he can give you a warning or charge you with speeding.  If you were driving one mile an hour over 85 he can charge you with reckless driving, or he can cut you a break and charge you with speeding. 

The law gives Federal prosecutors broad discretion as to whom to prosecute, whether or not to prosecute, and what charges to file.  Bordenkircher v. Hayes, 434 US 357 (1978).  Such factors include the strength of the case, the prosecution’s general deterrence value, the Government’s enforcement priorities, and the case’s relationship to the Government’s overall enforcement plan.  The United States Supreme Court has discouraged judicial review and supervision of prosecutor’s decisions because “examining the basis of a prosecution delays the criminal proceeding, threatens to chill law enforcement by subjecting the prosecutor’s motives and decision making to outside inquiry, and may undermine prosecutorial effectiveness by revealing the Government’s enforcement policy. All these are substantial concerns that make the courts hesitant to examine the decision whether to prosecute.  Prosecutorial discretion is broad but not unfettered.  Selectivity in the enforcement of criminal laws is subject to constitutional constraints.  The decision to prosecute may not be deliberately based upon an unjustifiable standard such as race, religion, or other arbitrary classification.”  Wayte v. United States, 470 US 578 (1985). 

The model rules of the American Bar Association state the following: “The primary duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice within the bounds of the law, not merely to convict. The prosecutor serves the public interest and should act with integrity and balanced judgment to increase public safety both by pursuing appropriate criminal charges of appropriate severity, and by exercising discretion to not pursue criminal charges in appropriate circumstances…  The prosecutor is not merely a case-processor but also a problem-solver responsible for considering broad goals of the criminal justice system. The prosecutor should seek to reform and improve the administration of criminal justice, and when inadequacies or injustices in the substantive or procedural law come to the prosecutor’s attention, the prosecutor should stimulate and support efforts for remedial action…”

The Model Rules of the American Bar Association state the following:  “The prosecutor generally serves the public and not any particular government agency, law enforcement officer or unit, witness or victim.”  Yet Prosecutor’s Offices, and the Department of Justice have used, and abused, the draconian Civil Forfeiture laws in order to fund, and at times enrich their law enforcement agencies.  The financial incentive to seize cash and valuable property are so high that forfeiture sometimes warps the priorities of law enforcement officials.  Authorities have been known to allow people to commit crimes, just so they can later seize the cash that was earned from those crimes. The City Attorney of Las Cruces, New Mexico, for example, was caught on videotape telling a roomful of people how police officers waited outside a bar hoping that the owner of a 2008 Mercedes would walk out drunk because they “could hardly wait” to get their hands on his vehicle. 

In my case the Federal government seized property from myself and others in my conspiracy under the civil forfeiture laws.  The Government probably seized at least a million dollars in property, possibly more, from all of the defendants in my case.  None of the monies obtained from civil forfeiture is applied to restitution orders.  All of this money goes to the budget of the Department of Justice, so that they can fight more crime, and not have to rely on asking Congress for funding.  This obviously gives the government a big incentive to prosecute and seize property, when alternatives to incarceration and forfeiture would be more beneficial to society.  Mass incarceration and mass forfeiture may work in China and Russia.  The Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves.  

Me and my co-conspirators have to pay close to a million dollars in restitution to the victims of our crimes. The Government seized close to a million dollars in civil forfeiture from me and my co-conspirators.  Not a penny of that seizure went to the victims of our crimes.  The Government is allowed to seized property without being subjected to a high burden of proof that the property was somehow connected to the underlying crime.  The legal standard used in criminal cases, ie., guilty beyond a reasonable doubt does not apply in civil asset forfeiture cases.  Lower standards of proof, such as the preponderance of the evidence, ie., the tipping of the scale, is typically used.  Legal scholars have been calling for an end to the unfair civil forfeiture laws for years.  But which small town prosecutor, with a limited budget, is going to listen to a Constitutional scholar?  The Justice Department regularly issues press releases boasting about how many billions of dollars a year are seized from American citizens.  My lawyer never objected to the forfeiture orders proposed by US Attorney Huang.  I gave the government thousands of dollars in property without a fight.  My attorney told me that I would piss off the prosecutor if I objected and get a longer sentence.  That strategy didn’t work.  Learn from my mistakes.  Don’t roll over and play dead.  Your lawyer should do more for you than hold your hand and walk you in front of the firing squad. 

Prosecutors are granted broad powers to destroy lives. Judges rarely challenge their conduct.  The public, especially minorities, are starting to challenge this unlimited power in DA’s offices in many big cities.  Former public defender Larry Krasner recently was elected District Attorney for the City of Philadelphia.   His first order of business was to fire half the prosecutors and enact broad policies of criminal justice reform, including an end to mass incarceration.  I wrote an article about Krasner in the New Haven Independent, see link.

After I pleaded guilty I was looking at a Guidelines range of 4 years, but the Guidelines were advisory, not mandatory.  The US Supreme Court determined that the Guidelines were unfair, after the Federal government had employed them for 30 years to lock up a generation of young minority males for drug dealing.  The most glaring problem with the Guidelines is that it imposed a 10 year sentence on a crack dealer while a cocaine dealer only faced 1 year. The Justice Department was still permitted to use them at sentencing for advisory purposes.  

The Office of Adult Probation, an arm of the Justice Department, is responsible for preparing a Probation report, with sentencing recommendations, apart from the Guidelines.  The Probation officer interviews you, contacts friends and family members, and reviews your file and comes up with a recommendation.  The report is completely sealed.  The Judge gets a copy of the report.  The attorneys also get copies but they are not allowed to give their clients copies of the report.  You can look at your report but you cannot have a copy.  My report concluded that despite the fact that my criminal behavior was out of character, an aberration, and that I was unlikely to offend in the future, it was recommended that I receive substantial jail time for “deterrence purposes.” 

I was shocked by the conclusion in my probation report.  I had just spent the last year living on pins and needles with a Federal indictment hanging over my head.  I was still allowed to practice law, but the pressure was unbearable.   I was a complete disgrace in the legal profession, I was humiliated by Superior Court Judges, my name was dragged through the media, and I was disowned by friends and relatives.  I told the Probation Officer that I had felt terrible about what I had done.  I had disappointed so many people in my life.  My life was ruined.  My remorse didn’t mean anything to the Office of Adult Probation.  I still had to go to jail in order to deter others from committing my crime.  If the housing market, and the economy didn’t crash in 2008 my crime would have been a run of the mill case.   I probably would have never been indicted at all.  My seven real estate transactions paled in comparison with the fraud committed by the big banks, which caused the entire economy to collapse.  Yet I was required to go to jail for “deterrence purposes.” 

The night before I was sentenced I let off some steam at the racquetball courts.  I got a call from my attorney at around 8 PM.  He said he had great news for me.  He said that Prosecutor Huang was only looking for me to do 24 months in jail.  I was shocked.  24 months was not good news, especially when my attorney kept telling me I would be lucky to do a year.  At the time I didn’t realize that Huang couldn’t ask for more than 24 months.  The sentencing Judge Hall had just sentenced the other attorneys in my case to 24 months and their guidelines were 4 years, and they had done 2-3 times as many closings as me.  The sentencing judge cannot subject similarly situated defendants to wide sentencing disparities.  If my judge wanted to be fair she should have given me half the sentence of the other defendants, in that I did half the closings.  “Guidelines’ emphasis on loss fails to accurately reflect a defendant’s culpability”  Derick R. Vollrath, Note, Losing the Loss Calculation: Toward a More Just Sentencing Regime in White-Collar Criminal Cases, 59 Duke L.J. 1001, 1023–25 (2010).  My culpability was admittedly minor, according to US Attorney Huang, compared to the culpability of my co-conspirators.  Instead she imposed a sentence of 20 months.  To this day I don’t understand why she hammered me with 20 months.  My attorney couldn’t understand it either.  He was shocked.  Everyone in the courtroom was shocked.  I told the Judge about how terrible I felt about what I had done.  I pleaded guilty.  I admitted that I had committed a crime.  I put myself at the mercy of the Court.  I had already been punished significantly. My personal life was ruined.  I would be branded a felon for the rest of my life.  I wasn’t looking to walk out of court a free man. I was willing to be punished for my crime.  But at what price?  Should I be hammered into the ground?  A pound of flesh? 

The public attitude towards crime and punishment has changed dramatically since I was sentenced.  Every politician in big cities runs on the criminal justice reform platform.  Nobody is using the tough on crime slogan anymore.  History has proven that building more jails does not result in less crime. Donald Trump, a Republican, passed the First Step Act.  Locking up drug dealers in the inner cities does not reduce drug dealing.  If you want to reduce drug dealing you need to address the issues of poverty, failed public schools, livable wages, a lack of police in inner cities, housing projects, etc…  If you spent the money that you spend on prisons to hire more cops to patrol the inner cities you wouldn’t need as many prisons.  Donald Trump said he wanted to send the National Guard into Chicago to reduce violent crime.  All he has to do is send more money into the cities and provide decent jobs and police protection for its residents.  

If you want to reduce financial crime you need to address problems in the financial industry, ie., and focus more on the regulation of banks and big financial institutions. Focusing on crime committed by low level people in the financial industry, and filling up the jails with closings attorneys, will do nothing to address structural problems in the financial industry.  Plus studies have shown that locking people up does not deter crime.  Some of they guys I was locked up with were mini Madoffs, career criminals, they had no moral bearings whatsoever, there is nothing you can do to deter them from committing crime.         

From the date the Feds served me with a subpoena until the date I checked into Otisville prison, almost four years later, I lived under constant stress.  I saw a therapist during this period of time, Dr. Brian Kelly.  He introduced me to neurofeedback, which I found to be very beneficial and helped me handle the stress.  My prison experience was no less stressful.  One stressor was replaced with another. 

I wrote diaries in prison in order to relieve my stress.  As a lawyer I constantly wrote briefs, letters, memos, etc…  In prison I had no outlet for my writing skills. I began to send my stories out to a small group of friends and relatives on the outside.  I was able to email in prison.  It cost $3 an hour to  use the computers to send and receive emails.  Eventually my emails reached a greater number of people, as my friends forwarded my stories to others.  I emailed my stories to inmates whom I knew who had been released from Otisville.

Eventually Jewish inmates on the inside found out that I was sending stories about them to people on the outside.  Inmates’ families started to read my stories.  The inmates got very upset at me.  They yelled and cursed at me in the shul.  I assured them that I would not write about them anymore. I couldn’t control myself. I continued to write stories, but I told my friends not to forward my stories to anyone.  I never promised them that I wouldn’t write about new inmates who were entering the camp.  Inmates were constantly coming and going.   

The inmates didn’t discover my new stories until I started posting them on Paul Bass’ website, ie., the New Haven Independent.  Paul had heard about my stories.  He asked me for permission to publish them.  I agreed. 

Eventually the inmates discovered that I was blogging from prison.  My fellow inmates got very angry.  They made life very difficult for me.  They dumped soup on my bunk.  They yelled at me and harassed me every chance they got. They stole my prison watch.  One inmate used my winter hat as a toilet.  I decided to suspend my blogs from prison until after I was released from Otisville.  I still wrote stories in my diary every day but I didn’t make them public.  I sent them out to a very select group of family and friends.  After several weeks the guys settled down.  They stopped harassing me about the blog.  By this time I didn’t have much time before my release date. 

After I was released I started this website.  I continued to write about Otisville, as well as about the criminal justice system and the Department of Justice.  It wasn’t easy to adjust to civilian life.  I froze up whenever I saw a cop.  My personal life was turned upside down.  Nothing was the same.  It felt great to be out of prison, but change is stressful, whether it is for the good, or for the bad.  My personal relationships changed.  Nobody understood the trauma I had just experienced. Nobody seemed to want to understand what I had just been through.  I was a criminal. Criminals are supposed to go to jail.  I kept in touch with my friends from Otisville.  Slowly I adjusted to the real world.  I forgave people who were insensitive.  I can’t change the world, but I can change myself.     

After I got out of Otisville I expected people on the outside to be much kinder than the misfits who threatened me in prison.  I was wrong.  The officers at the Probation Office intimidated me with threats of reincarceration.  They harassed me for restitution money even though I didn’t have the means to make much money. They wouldn’t let me leave the State of Connecticut, even just to visit a friend in New York.  They even asked me why I was “wasting” my time writing a blog. For three years I was subjected to surprise visits at my home, as  well as constant interrogation. 

A few months after I got out of Otisville I took on a person who was far more cruel, devious and depraved than anyone I had met in Otisville, or anyone I had encountered in my entire life.  I had known the well respected and powerful Rabbi Daniel Greer for almost 25 years.  I was told in confidence, by Rabbi Muroff, that Rabbi Greer was a pedophile who raped a number of male teenage students at his Yeshiva.  I knew many former students from the Greer yeshiva, as well as the administrators and teachers.  The yeshiva was falling apart at the time I was released from prison.  Rumors about Mr. Greer were going around all over New Haven, as well as New York.  Mr. Greer and his supporters intimidated and threatened anyone who dared to publicize his crimes.  I was not going to be intimidated by Mr. Greer.  I exposed Mr. Greer in my blog.  Mr. Greer sued me for defamation.  I refused to back down.  The rest is history.  You can read about it in my blog.  Mr. Greer is now sitting in a jail cell in solitary confinement in State prison.  Mr. Greer was sentenced to 20 years suspended after 12.  There is a $20 million child rape judgment against Mr. Greer.   

In my battle with Mr. Greer I was subjected to numerous threats and personal attacks, not only by low life criminals, who wanted to beat me up in the back of the Walgreens parking lot on Whalley Avenue, but also by low life pedophile Mr. Greer, Mr. Greer’s low life friends, and Mr. Greer’s sleezy high priced attorneys.  It was a high tech lynching!  Attorney Darcy McGraw, Mr. Greer’s friend and head of the Connecticut Innocence Project threatened to contact the United States Justice Department and try to get my probation violated, so that I would go back to Federal prison.  Ms. McGraw wrote a personal letter in support of pedophile Greer, asking Judge Alander to go easy on him at sentencing. Ms. McGraw also contacted my criminal defense attorney in order to threaten me.  Mr. Greer’s attorneys William Ward, David Grudberg and Amanda Nugent tried to get me thrown out of Mr. Greer’s child rape trial in Federal Court by submitting an unsigned restraining order to Judge Shea.  When I told Judge Shea that the order was unsigned he was shocked and scolded Mr. Greer’s attorneys.  Mr. Greer’s criminal defense attorney William Dow tried to get me kicked out of Mr. Greer’s criminal trial by filing a bogus sequestration motion.  Judge Alander denied Mr. Dow’s request and found said motion to be made in bad faith.  Mr. Greer himself filed a frivolous defamation case against me, which he agreed to drop right after he got convicted for child rape.  Mr. Greer was represented by Attorneys William Ward and David Grudberg in the defamation case.  The Office of Adult Probation even gave me a hard time.  During a surprise home visit the officer told me that the “people downtown” were mad that I was “wasting” my time with my blog and I should spend more time looking for a job to pay them more restitution.  My restitution didn’t go to the Federal government, it went to Wells Fargo.  Wells Fargo could care less about me or my restitution payments.  In almost all criminal cases a jail sentence is usually driven by the victim.  The judge will listen to the victim and decide whether or not to impose some amount of jail time, or no jail time at all.  Wells Fargo never showed up at my sentencing, never submitted any letters to my sentencing judge and never told the Justice Department that I should go to jail.  My lawyer should have contacted Wells and asked them whether they cared whether I went to jail or not. Wells may not have responded, but you never know unless you try.  My lawyer should have argued to my sentencing Judge that Wells had shown no interest in my incarceration.  I don’t know whether the argument would have made a difference, but I will never know because he never tried to make the argument.  But who am I to complain?  Quality Federal criminal defense attorneys, especially in white collar cases, are beyond the pay scale for the middle class.  Federal prosecutors take advantage of this and in many cases prosecute guys least able to afford to put up a defense. 

My exposure of Mr. Greer brought my blog much publicity, as well as credibility.  My blogs about Otisville prison got the attention of the media when high profile guys were sentenced to Otisville, such as Michael Cohen, Michael “the Situation” Sorrentino, and others.  The New York Times ran a couple of stories about Otisville.  I spent six months helping the Times reporter with his article about Otisville.  I also spent significant time helping a reporter for the Yale Daily News write an extensive article about Yale graduate Rabbi Daniel Greer.  I also got quoted extensively by the tabloids when they wanted to know about “The Situation.”  I’ve provide material to the New York Post, the Associated Press and the Daily News.  I have written articles for The New Haven Independent.  A number of other blogs post links to my articles.  I have been invited to speak at shuls and universities about prison life and the criminal justice system.  I have been invited to speak on WBAI and the New Haven Independent radio show as well as the Heshy radio show. 

I learned a lot about people and a lot about life in prison.  I was locked up with millionaires and billionaires.  Everyone wore the same green clothing.  Everyone was subjected to daily doses of humiliation from the guards.  Everyone was guilty of a crime, an enemy of the State, regardless of their status on the outside.  We were all in the same boat, eating the same crappy food, using the same disgusting bathrooms and showers, and getting into the same fights over complete stupidity.   Everyone was more or less equal and had to learn to get along.  Having money didn’t go very far in jail.  If you had access to more than $300 a month you were considered rich.  I realized that there are more important things in life than money.  The billionaires were not any more happy with their lives than the poor shleps. 

The reason I ended up in jail was because I wanted to make a few extra bucks.  The big banks dangled huge sums of money to motivate guys to close sub prime mortgages.  Waiters and busboys instantly became “loan officers.”  Closing lawyers’ practices boomed. Some lawyers quit law in order to hawk sub prime mortgages.  It was a feeding frenzy.  I was caught up in the frenzy.  Most lawyers are obsessed with money, status and power.  I no longer subscribe to that mindset.  Most lawyers don’t realize that compared with the billionaires I lived with, they are paupers with oversized egos fighting over pocket change.  There are more important things in life.  

I am now a convicted felon.  Learn from my mistake.  Drive the speed limit and obey the law! 

I will continue to the fight for peace, justice and the American way.  But I do need a few bucks to pay for my basic necessities.  Please DONATE NOW to the cause! 

 

Release date Nov 2, 2015- Otisville parking lot
mug shot taken on May 21, 2014, upon entering Otisville

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