- Michael Szafranski
- Welcome to my blog. For those of you who do not know, I, Michael Szafranski, was recently released from the Federal Prison Camp in Miami, Florida where I spent 11 months. It took six years from the time that I knew I was under investigation to the day I reported to prison. In many ways those six years were worse than the 11 months I actually sat. This blog is going to deal with many of the issues facing people like myself who are just trying to navigate the legal system when they find out they are in trouble and are thrown into the crazy world that is our criminal justice system. My case was kind of high profile so I dealt with it all. I am sharing what I learned so that others will be a little more prepared as to how to deal with various situations and to hopefully shed a little bit of light on what really goes on in the system. Please email me with any questions and if you would like to utilize my consulting services. Appreciate any comments and critiques! Follow along as I publish my book at https://www.wattpad.com/user/whitecollarguru. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Monday, November 25, 2019
Being a former prisoner elicits all sorts of reactions. Some people avoid any contact with former prisoners because of a belief that “all prisoners are bad”. There are some who will associate with former prisoners socially but when it comes to business, the former prisoner is still toxic and while a social relationship is all fine an good, a business relationship is off limits. Unfortunately, in the nearly three years since I was released, I have come across both types of people. Many of my old friends consider me to be dishonest not because of what I was accused of, but because of the punishment I received, deservedly so or not. I have also been shunned from new business opportunities because someone involved in the process decided to google me and decided I was just too much of a criminal. When I have expressed this disappointment to someone with whom I share an experience, he just told me “small minds, pay no attention”.
Thankfully, the world is not made up exclusively of small-minded people. Thankfully, there are those in this world who understand that not everyone who has gone to prison did so because they were guilty and even if guilty, they understand that one mistake should not ruin a person for life. I have never been a big fan of Kim Kardashian, but I do applaud her for everything she has done reform the prison system. The same goes for President Trump. Whether you love him, or you hate him (there is no in between) there is no argument that he has done more in the name of criminal justice reform than any president in modern times.
For those who know me and who follow me on this blog or on social media, they know that I do not hide from my past. I embrace it. My experience in the prison system has made me who I am today. Am I proud of it? No. Am I ashamed of it? Also no. The question is why. Why, when faced with all of the social stigmas and professional obstacles do I choose to post my blogs on Facebook, post pictures of the courthouse on my Instagram, and publicly recount various days such as the day I was indicted, the day I was sentenced and the day I was released? Why do I blog at all? Its because you need to own it!
A former prisoner needs to be confident that there are people who are not only willing to socialize with former prisoners, not only are they willing to do business with former prisoners, but they respect them for not hiding it. Professionally, I have started to come across people like this. One of them recently remarked to me that he/she thinks it is “totally amazing” that I put it all out there and that I do not try to hide my past; that in this person’s view, I am to respected more and not less. I responded that to me, my past is not something that can be buried, not in the age of Google anyway. But this person was adamant, that there is something honest and true about how I do not hide from it. It is this person and people like this that keeps my faith in humanity and that in a world of closed-minded people all there are plenty of people who are not judgmental and who understand that going to prison doesn’t make someone a bad person. Keep it mind its not that this person is nonjudgmental of me even though I went to prison, although that would be the case anyway. No, it is because I am so up front about it that this person respects me. Not not everyone has such a clear moral compass to look at a situation so intelligently but those who do represent the epitome people of integrity and clear headedness of society. Incidentally this person claims to haver never Googled me because “it just doesn’t matter what it says about me on Google and that I am judged by who I am today.
In today’s world nothing can be hidden. If the Brett Kavanagh hearings taught us anything it is that nothing can remain secret. Let us not forget that those allegations were from 30 years ago; a time before Google and even the internet. In today’s world, within 15 seconds it is possible to know a person’s entire life history. As former prisoners we have a choice, we can either hide from our past or we can embrace it. Or do we have a choice after all? It’s your life. OWN IT!
Tuesday, July 30, 2019
any similarity to actual events is merely coincidental
Once upon a time in a city in South Florida there was a lawyer. This lawyer’s name was Bull Schitter. Bull Schitter was not a very smart lawyer. Even by the low standards of how many judge lawyers, Bull Schitter was very unethical and had no morals whatsoever. What Bull Schitter lacked in intelligence and in ethics, however, he made up for in his ability the cultivate valuable political relationships. He even managed to partner with a somewhat reputable lawyer who took pity on Bull Schitter and gave him a job. At one point, in spite of his inability to count to 100, Bull Schitter even managed to supervise a recount of a disputed government election. Such was the ability of Bull Schitter to insert himself into chaos and capitalize financially.
Lucky for Bull Schitter his partner passed on and he became the senior partner at his law firm. Bull Schitter managed to become a power broker in his sleepy South Florida city. To say the power corrupts is an understatement when looking at Bull Schitter. Bull Schitter knew that the only way for him to get the word out that he was a force to be reckoned with was to utilize the power of the press. For that, Bull Schitter needed an ally at a local newspaper. Lucky for Bull Schitter he found such an ally in Bethany. Even though Bull Schitter was married, in his view that was merely a minor inconvenience when it came to his desire to advance his career. His ally was married as well, to a grotesque looking fellow who was also a journalist. The grotesque fellow, who we will call Norm, was relegated to working for a blog dedicated to covering stories not good enough for even a tabloid. When it came to Norm, he had a face that was not even good enough for radio. Bull Schitter knew that Bethany could not possibly be satisfied with Norm, so Bull Schitter lured her into an extramarital affair and used her to perpetuate his name.
Sometime around 2010 a fraud of epic proportions was uncovered in the sleepy South Florida town. There were millions if not billions of dollars at stake. Bull Schitter, sensing opportunity immediately endeavored to portray himself as the savior for these victims. However, Bull Schitter had absolutely no skills or knowledge about the inner workings of the fraud, so he had to resort to his typical unethical standards. Bull Schitter attempted to contact as many people who were somehow tied to the fraud in order to gain as much knowledge as possible under the pretext that he would represent anyone he spoke to. He would inform prospective clients that anything said would fall under the attorney client privilege which was of course a meaningless phrase to Bull Schitter. Only after would he decide if he wanted to actually represent that supposed client. In one case he even decided to sue one of the clients he had attempted to recruit while accumulating information by using the very information obtained while attempting to recruit that client. When that client went to court to prevent that lawsuit from going forward, Bull Schitter arranged for the case to be heard by a judge for whom Bull Schitter was head of his election committee. The former client had no chance.
The other problem that Bull Schitter faced was money. Fighting a case like this was going to cost a lot of money, money that Bull Schitter did not have. Luckily for Bull Schitter he had signed up a client who was willing to loan him the money he needed to take the case to court. What is important to understand is that lawyers like Bull Schitter can make money by either taking a portion, usually a third, of the money they win for their clients, or they charge hourly as other lawyers do. This client, we will call him Todd Coleman was a victim who wanted to pay Bull Schitter an hourly rate. Bull Schitter was also representing many other clients who were paying Bull Schitter a third of their winnings. All told, Bull Schitter was representing a group of people with claims in excess of $200 million. Even if Todd Coleman was half of that, Bull Schitter stood to make one third of $100 million, plus the hourly fees he was getting paid by Todd Coleman. Best of all, Todd Coleman was footing the bill for the cost of the lawsuit!
Bull Schitter had to get his story out to get the defendants in the case to settle with him to avoid the risk (to him) of going to trial. Todd Coleman would not be happy and Bull Schitter not get any money from the other clients. Bull Schitter had by now accumulated a lot of dirt and a lot of information that could be taken out of context. His love interest, Bethany, was not able to publish the dirt since it was beneath the standards of her newspaper. Fortunately, and unfortunately for Bull Schitter, Bethany’s husband Norm, the grotesque fellow who wrote a blog, recently discovered their affair and threatened to expose it. This, in and of itself would have been a scandal in the sleepy South Florida city. Bull Schitter had an idea. Norm had not had a real story in ages. Bull Schitter told Norm that he would let Norm print the dirt before anyone else got to see the “information”. Bull Schitter also agreed to allow his private investigator that Todd Coleman was funding work for Norm free of charge. All of this was of course contingent on Norm keeping the affair between his wife Bethany and Bull Schitter a secret. Norm agreed.
One of the main defendants in the case was a company called TaDA Financial. TaDa was the deepest pocket here and Bull Schitter needed to settle with them to get paid. TaDa was also being sued by a bunch of lawyers who were handling the company that was left over in the aftermath of the fraud. Bull Schitter knew that if TaDa settled with the other lawyers first, that it would prevent him from suing TaDa. As a result, Bull Schitter acted against the best wishes of his clients and settled with TaDa. Bull Schitter pocketed fees in the neighborhood of $50 million. This represented the portion of the amount that his investors recovered. The investors also had to pay for their share of expenses incurred by Bull Schitter. Months later, those victims who did not sign up with Bull Schitter also settled with TaDa. That money was meant to make all of the victims whole. There were victims who signed on with Bull Schitter and there were others who simply left it to the lawyers who were suing on behalf of what was left of the business after the fraud. Seemingly, victims represented by Bull Schitter as well as those not represented by Bull Schitter were represented by the lawyers from the company. However, those not represented by Bull Schitter actually came out better than those represented by Bull Schitter. The reason was that if a victim recovered $100, Bull Schitter took $33 of it. The victim who was covered by the lawsuit on behalf of the surviving company did not have to pay that fee. In essence the only person who benefited when Bull Schitter filed a lawsuit was Bull Schitter. Considering that Bull Schitter, as we know, has no integrity even for a lawyer, this is not surprising.
As mentioned above, Bull Schitter made a lot of money for Bull Schitter when he settled with TaDa Financial. Bull Schitter still had one problem. Todd Coleman had lent him close to $20 million to fund the lawsuit and had not yet been paid back. For a person like Bull Schitter, who even by lawyer standards does not have any integrity, there was no problem in not paying back Todd Coleman. Todd Coleman sued Bull Schitter and a judgement was granted in favor of Todd Coleman. The problem was that Bull Schitter did not have the money to pay Todd Coleman. As a result, Todd Coleman asked for permission to take over the law firm that Bull Schitter owned. Ultimately, Bull Schitter agreed to pay back Todd Coleman over time.
While Bull Schitter was dealing with Todd Coleman things were going very bad for him in a state nor far from him sleepy South Florida city. Bull Schitter was involved in a case where his firm stands accused of bribing witnesses! An appeals court ruled that these payments were not considered privileged because they were perpetuating a fraud! It is possible that Bull Schitter is going to go to jail now, since as the managing partner of his law firm, Bull Schitter must have known about these illegal payments.
He is also being sued for malpractice by former clients. His clients allege that since he was so focused on dealing with his self-inflicted legal troubles, he was unable to give them adequate representation, as if ever was able to do so in the first place! They are suing him for over $10 million.
On the financial front, life keeps getting worse for Bull Schitter. Through all of the fees he has made off victimizing his clients Bull Schitter had put together a decent sized real estate portfolio. He had bought his office building, some surrounding land and some warehouses as well. He had also bought himself a nice house in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the sleepy South Florida city. Bull Schitter was seemingly on top of the world and the self-appointed king of the sleepy South Florida city.
One thing about life is that what goes around comes around. Bull Schitter has no money to pay his debts. Suddenly, all of his properties that he worked so hard to accumulate are saddled with debt and are for sale. His old office building is vacant. He spends his days deluding himself that he is still a power broker in the sleepy South Florida city while everyone now knows him for the fraud he has always been. Even his house, his lovely house, was recently saddled with a $5 million mortgage; a mortgage that he cannot pay. His house is now for sale and once it is sold, the culmination of the downfall of Bull Schitter will be complete. Well it will almost be complete. Indictment, conviction and prison await him in a state not fat from the sleepy South Florida city. And then, disbarment. Bull Schitter, karma is a bitch!
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Jeff Epstein is a low life who should spend the rest of his life in prison. To be totally honest Jeff Epstein should have to have his testicles cut off with a chainsaw without the benefit of any anesthesia while all of his victims take part in the mutilation. But should Jeff Epstein be in jail now? Legally, that is.
I first learned of Jeff Epstein in 2009. As luck would have it, multiple settlements in my case were purportedly settled by Epstein. He was supposedly settling lawsuits against him by underage girls who had been his victims prior to his going to prison. Brad Edwards, who never went to prison claimed that he represented these plaintiffs. We even looked at case files. The fact that Brad Edwards was never indicted remains a mystery to this day. I have my own theory on that which I am electing to keep to myself. For now, that is.
What is noteworthy is that Jeff Epstein’s lawyers (one of who is a partner with one of my lawyers) managed to get him one of the best deals in history. It is a deal that highlights one of the many inequities in our criminal justice system. There is no one who could credibly argue that 99.9% of the population would not have received a prison term for over 20 years to be served in a less than friendly federal prison. Epstein, however served less than two years in a state prison and was eligible for work release every day! Jeff Epstein, one of the most despicable criminals and victimizers in modern history served less time than I did. Let that sink in for a moment.
How did that happen? Well the US Attorney at the time, Alex Acosta, cut Epstein a deal where he would plead guilty to a State of Florida charge. In exchange, Epstein and his co-conspirators received a pass on the federal charges. Why did they cut him this deal? I have no idea. Any way you slice it, Epstein got away with a very lenient sentence and got to keep basically all of his wealth because of who he was, who he knew and the size of his bank account. Disgusting. Only the purchase of Manhattan for $24 worth of trinkets in 1626 by Peter Minuit comes close the deal Epstein made.
Nine years later the Miami Herald woke up and decided to shine a light on Acosta, Epstein, and the case in general. A year after they published their expose, Epstein was arrested and charged in New York for what is seems are the very crimes he pleaded guilty to in 2008. This should trouble anyone who has been found not guilty at trial or who has pleaded guilty, served time and now trying to rebuild his life. This is very scary.
Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that double jeopardy, which prevents a defendant from being charged for the same crime does not apply if there are overlapping governmental jurisdictions. In other words, someone can go to trial on the federal level, be found not guilty and then the State of Florida can decide to prosecute him for the very same crime if an overzealous prosecutor decides that a State law was violated as well. This is obviously an insane ruling, but it was affirmed by the Supreme Court.
As insane as that is, however, what is even more appalling is that it now seems that a defendant can be tried for the same crime on the federal level if the indictments are issued in different districts. Jeff Epstein cut a deal in Miami in 2008 and now it seems, on the surface at least that he is being charged with the same crime in New York 10 years later. Of course, it is possible that new crimes have been committed. Realistically, this indictment represents a do-over on a deal that the feds are not happy about.
Why should this bother the white-collar defendant? One of the most common catch all while collar charges is Wire Fraud or Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud. The very definition of Wire Fraud is a transaction that crosses state lines. Many defendants accused of Wire Fraud will have alleged victims in multiple states. Someone sitting in New York may have victims who live in New Jersey, Florida or California. In all likelihood, he is going to be charged in New York. Under the new Epstein rule the case may not be over once he resolves his case in New York be it through a plea deal, an acquittal or even a guilty verdict. Imagine if the defendant in New York decided to plead guilty in order to put the case behind him. He served his time, gets released and is now ready to rebuild. Upon release, an overzealous prosecutor in Florida, where one of the alleged victims resides, now decides that he is unhappy with the deal that the New York federal prosecutors gave the defendant. They decide to now re-indict in Florida since there is a victim from that state who also made a monetary transfer based on the alleged fraud. This is very scary!
The fact that Epstein is accused of the most heinous of crimes elicits little sympathy from the public. At the same time, we cannot, and we should have different types of laws and due process for different types of crimes. The rules have to be the rules whether someone stands accused of murder or money laundering. Today the New York prosecutors are charging someone with a crime in what amounts to a do over, irrespective of the nature of the crime. Do not fool yourselves. If it turns out that there is nothing new in the Epstein indictments, while-collar defendants are going to have to start bracing for the possibility of being indicted in multiple districts for the same crime. This cannot be allowed to happen!
I want to be clear. Jeffrey Epstein should not be a free man. He is a low life. In this country if a cop does not have a search warrant, goes into a house and finds a dead body, that evidence is disallowed, and a murderer walks free. We may not like it, but these laws are in place to protect the innocent, even if it means a guilty person goes free. I believe Epstein deserves to go to jail. I believe he should be placed in the worst prison in the country. I hope his cell mates do to him what he did to those poor girls. And I hope it hurts. Badly. I just hope that the reason he goes is not because of crimes that were supposed to have been covered by a deal, even if it was a bad one. Oh, and Brad Edwards? He also belongs in jail too!
Monday, March 18, 2019
Getting implicated in a crime comes with many challenges. There are financial challenges, social challenges, and of course familial challenges. Luckily, most of those who face these challenges are fortunate enough to have family and friends to support them and to lift them up while the horizon is bleak. These relationships are critical to the mental survival of someone going through any one of life's challenges and especially one where his freedom is on the line.
At the same time there are few things more aggravating than finding out that someone who was thought to be a friend was merely an opportunistic parasite trying to capitalize on another's success. There are few things as demoralizing than realizing that someone who was supposed to be part of a support system is suddenly absent. There is nothing worse than the feeling of having been used. There is no greater snake than a former friend or partner who is willing to "cooperate" with prosecutors by falsely implicating a former friend and partner in order to cleanse their own conscience from their own improper actions. Even after the case is over, the person implicated and possibly convicted of the crime will try and convince himself that this person or these people are still his friends. Eventually, however, it will become clear to him that this former friend was never anything of the kind. It may take one, two or even three years but eventually there will be some triggering event that brings the truth to the forefront. And that is when it is time to get even.
The first way to get even is by not getting screwed again. Most people who were successful will find a way to re-establish themselves. Once again, this former friend will try and use him to get ahead. It could be something as simple as a client referral from a new employer or for a client referral. The idea is not to fall victim to their deceptions once again. Not only should the person implicated avoid doing business with his former partner(s), but he should make sure no one he works with does so either. This former partner is a bad character, is a snake, and there is no way a former felon should allow his new life and his new associates to be victimized by this person or persons.
And then there are the secrets. The good news for anyone who has been used by one of these types of "friends" is that during this so-called friendship, plenty of information was shared that this former friend would never want revealed. Ample texts would likely have been exchanged. More than a few secrets would have been told. In other words, if someone is going to run for the hills when a friend and partner is implicated, he and/or she better be sure that there is nothing that can come out later that would embarrass them in front of former and current clients as well as their friends. When the person implicated is extricated from the situation either by serving a prison sentence or by getting the charges dropped, he will likely be very eager to do whatever necessary to remind this former friend, partner and colleague that he and/or she should have been a little more careful when running for the hills. In other words, payback's a bitch.
Now let’s say for example I had partner(s) like this. One would be surprised the type of secrets someone reveals when they are trying to pretend to be a friend. Marital indiscretions are one thing that can often come up. Now this may not be an actual admission of cheating, but it could very well be an episode that happened long ago that this person may not want revealed to his or her significant other, much less their social circle or the public at large. It may be something that happened recently that spouses do not want their life-partners to know about. This is the type of information that that the person who is embroiled in a criminal probe will be all too happy to reveal when everything concludes.
Of course, there is also the conduct of that person or persons while they were in a business with the person who finds himself involved on the criminal probe. The irony is that the person under indictment may have had pure intentions or may have had no idea what he was doing was actually illegal. Alternatively, what he did was not actually illegal even if he pleaded guilty to it in order to spare his family the agony of a trial and the risk of a long sentence with an adverse verdict. The "friend"/ partner, on the other hand was motivated purely by greed. He and/or she wanted in only to take advantage of a friend's new-found luck. As such the actions he/she took may have been deliberately conceived to get rich at the expense of their own contacts and clients using a web of deception. In other words, the "friend(s)" may have committed actual crimes while the person under investigation was innocent all along.
Of course, if anything was actually sent over an email, one would assume that all of this would have been handled over to the prosecutors so that this friend's misdeeds would have come to attention to those investigating any alleged crimes. That is both true and untrue. Firstly, a prosecutor needs to decide who to prosecute. Perception might be that these other ancillary members are just not important enough. Secondly, prosecutors may not fully understand the context of the emails and since the person under investigation is not about to throw his friend(s) under the bus, there is simply not a witness to corroborate the information contained in the emails. Third, the prosecutors may feel that these other people are more useful to provide information than they are being indicted and they simply decide to use them to try and get who they view as the big fish.
Then, of course there is the ultimate wild card, and that relates to information never seen by prosecutors. Prosecutors have the right to subpoena all records that they feel are related to a crime. At the same time, defendants have a fifth amendment right not to self-incriminate. That line gets murky when it comes to email and even more murky when it comes to text messages, Blackberry messages, i-messages and even WhatsApp messages from a personal phone. Lawyers will generally agree that a corporate email account has to be turned over to the prosecutors, but that's it. Imagine if you will that text messages and Blackberry messages were never turned over to federal prosecutors. Imagine if you will that those messages contained statements from a former partner/friend that said something like "there is no way Henry will find out about these fees, right?" Or, " I don't even like this person, but he has enough money to invest". A text may say "I don't even want him as a client, but I need to be nice to him so that he keeps investing," or "Can we charge him double fees for being a pain in the ass?" While these are all troubling and may even be incriminating to the person who sent them none is worse than "I don't want them to know that I am making money off this". Of course, many secrets that a spouse would not his or her significant other to know about would also likely be contained in these text messages.
As it turns out, none of these texts, messages would have been seen by federal prosecutors since a defendant will generally assert the fifth amendment privilege whenever possible, even if there is information contained in those texts that is exculpatory since there may be other text messages that, when taken out of context, will not help a defendant. Of course, once the case is over either via acquittal or completion of a prison term, all bets are off. The person implicated now has no incentive to keep this information private. They can be used in a book (hint, hint), simply placed on the internet or even emailed in their entirety to the clients this former friend and partner deceived. I imagine that these clients or even partners would not be too happy. Nor would the employers or even state regulatory agencies that oversee the employment of such individual(s), especially if it violated state regulatory laws such as finance, real estate, insurance, law, mortgages, lobbying, agriculture, accounting, etc. It is possible that this former friend and partner would be prohibited by state law from continuing to work in his and/or her chose profession. It is possible that the information, once revealed, would destroy a marriage.
There are some who would assert that the person who was implicated in the crime feel bad for releasing this information; for possibly ruining someone's life. Well, that argument rings hollow to someone who has gone through the criminal justice system. He may have been separated from his family by going to prison, had his career destroyed, had a strain put on his family life or at the very least had to spend a fortune on legal fees. There is not going to be any sympathy on his part for any suffering endured by those who took advantage of and then abandoned him. No, this is exactly what he and/or she deserves. None of the suffering that they may or may not endure will even come close to that endured by the defendant himself.
The message for the former felon is to remember that there will be a time for the truth to come out. Those who turn on you will ultimately come face to face with their misdeeds. They will know, their clients will know, their friends will know, and the entire community will know. If they are upstanding members of their communities on boards of schools, charities, and religious organizations they will be knocked down. And for the former friends and partners I say this: Nothing stays secret forever.
Monday, January 7, 2019
Prisons in general are not unlike miniature civilizations. Just as ordinary citizens are grouped by race, ideology, religion and background, so too are prisoners. It is not as though the prison actually separates inmates by race-not in a camp anyway-but just as people choose their social circles outside of prison based on a whole array of criteria, so to do prisoners. And just as any functioning civilization has an economy, so does the prison system.
It is important to note that it is against prison rules for anyone to provide goods and services to another inmate for any sort of compensation, be it monetary or even sexual (hey some guys are down for a long time). Those are the official rules and actually being caught breaking such rules can result in all sorts of penalties. The reality, however, is radically different. Thea prison system has a functioning economy where many inmates provide different types of goods or services to other inmates for compensation. Some inmates decide to do this because they need money to get food from their commissary and some do it simply to pass the time. The dirty little secret of prison is, at least when it comes to a camp, that you can get almost anything you want and for a minimal amount of money have all the services of home.
Before I go into what types of good and services are sold, it is important to understand the currency system in prison. Unlike the real world, prisoners cannot carry around money with them. Being caught with cash will earn an inmate an express pass to solitary confinement. The way inmates purchase food from the commissary is by using funds sent into their account. It is sort of like a bank account that a prisoner draws on to go shopping without ever being able to touch the money. Two of the most commonly purchased items are tuna and mackerel in a pouch. These items are not purchased for consumption; rather they are purchased to act as a means of exchange. When a prisoner buys something he pays in tuna or its dollar equivalent. When I was in prison the price of a tuna pouch was $1.50 so if someone wanted to charge me $15 for something, I would have to give him 10 tunas, or 15 mackerels which cost $1 each. On the other hand, there were some items for which there was no monetary value ascribed. The cost of something would simply be a defined number of tunas or its equivalent value in commissary. For example, the cost of a cigarette was one tuna. If a prisoner did not have tuna, he would have to give the seller $1.50 in commissary money when he went shopping.
Speaking of cigarettes, anyone who has watched even one prison movie knows that cigarettes are sold in prison. The cost of one cigarette is directly tied to the degree of difficulty of obtaining it. In the higher security prisons, cigarettes need to be smuggled in either through the visiting room or through the guards who actually bring in most of the contraband for a fee. As a result, a cigarette in those prisons will cost close to $10. In a camp however, cartons of cigarettes are simply tossed over the fence by friends of the inmates and then the inmate just walks over to the fence when no one is looking and picks it up. In other words, whereas in a more secure prison, the risk surrounds obtaining it, in a camp the risk involves holding on to and hiding it. As a result, the price in camp cigarette is a fraction of a secure prison cigarette. For many inmates who are allowed to finish lengthy sentences in a camp setting, this means a serious reduction in their monthly income.
My first exposure to the prison economy came the day I arrived at the camp. Not one hour passed when a nice kid, who spoke very little English came over and after five minutes was able to tell me he was offering to do my laundry! The cost? $35 per month which included my laundry being washed, dried and folded two times a week. On one of those days he would also wash my linens and make my bed when the wash was done. All fees were to be paid in tuna. While I did not commit to avail myself of the services of this young entrepreneur, I was impressed by his assertiveness. I soon learned that the laundry business was very competitive and that if I shopped around, I would be able to lower the price!
I am not the neatest person. Don't get me wrong, dirt completely disgusts me, and I need everything around me to be clean. But when it comes to organizing my shoes, making my bed neatly, and getting rid of clutter, well let’s just say I have other strengths. Unfortunately for me, in prison your bed has to be made tightly, the area around the bed must be clear of anything and the shoes must be organized under the bed. This presented a problem. I was not going to risk being written up for my bed being made poorly. I also did not want to spend my mornings stressing over sweeping and cleaning and attempting in vain to make my bed properly. However no sooner than 12 hours after arrival was this problem solved. Another entrepreneurial fellow from Puerto Rico named Castro offered to handle all of that for me. If I wanted him to make my bed every day, the cost was eight tunas a month. If I wanted him to sweep the area, empty the trash and clean under my bed every day, that was also eight tunas a month. I could however go with the package deal and pay him 10 tunas a month and he would make my bed and clean my area every day. He would also mop once a week. 10 tunas equated to $15. So, for $15 per month I had all of this taken care of. Sold. I decided to do my own laundry for now.
Once a week we got to go shopping. The way it worked was the one quarter of the camp went each day Monday-Thursday. With 400 inmates that meant there could potentially be 100 people shopping per day. Shopping in prison is not like going to Walmart. It is more like the canteen system in summer camp. Every inmate is given a form, he fills it out, brings it to the commissary, hands it to the officer, who in turn gives it to the inmates who work in the commissary who fill the order. If an inmate is not there as soon as the commissary opens, he may be waiting well over an hour for his stuff. I did not have such patience, so I made sure to try to get there first. One time, I got there late and had to wait a very long time. Luckily, I found out there was a commissary VIP service. One of the inmates who worked there would take your list with him when he went to work in the morning. When he saw you walk in, he would fill your order before anyone else who was waiting. The cost of this service was one tuna. I figured my time, even in prison was worth more than $1.50 per hour and signed up for the VIP service. Many months later I started bunking with this fellow and was able to barter stock market lessons for free VIP service.
Before entering prison, I decided that I was going to use my time productively. I wanted to get into shape. I was always an avid runner, so it was easy to expand on that when there was not much else to do. Bulking up was another matter. I needed help in that department. Lucky for me, prison has no shortage of personal trainers. I chose one named Pete mainly because he was a nice Italian guy who got along with the Jews. For roughly 20 tunas a month, Pete would train me four days a week. He was smarter than most of the other inmates, so he preferred to be paid in cash via my commissary. As a result, I was probably the only person who would order both the kosher meals and pork every week. This was money well spent and I would say a necessity for anyone who can afford it. By the time I left prison I was in the best shape of my life. I was bench pressing close to 200 pounds and had slimmed to 155 pounds. There was not an ounce of fat on me. The only downside being that now when I go to the gym, I still think I can pay the trainer in tuna.
The food in prison is not very good or healthy. It is even worse for an inmate such as me who keeps kosher. If an inmate, particularly a kosher inmate wants to eat well, he needs to turn to other sources of food. The interesting about prison is while services such as cleaning are cheap, goods are very expensive even in a camp. It took a while, but I was eventually able to tap into alternative markets for food. The inmates who worked in various kitchens used to smuggle out and then sell all sorts of items that oddly enough never appeared on the menu. I was suddenly able to buy eggs (one tuna for three eggs), peppers cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes. Ordinary inmates were even able to buy raw chicken and meat! This was all critical as I was getting in shape. Not only was I in the best shape of my life by the time I left, I was also eating healthier and was on an all protein diet of tuna and eggs!
For many inmates getting food solved only half of the problem. They still needed to cook it. Have no fear, prison has an abundance of chefs who will cook any and every meal. Some of the chefs would even handle the food acquisition portion while others simply worked with what was supplied. I still remember a fellow named Mario who must have been generating $2000 a month in revenue. He had his own kitchen in the back of the dorms and would cook everything from chicken parm sandwiches to burgers to pizza. He even had a kitchen staff working on the presentation! There were others who use to make yogurt. Some people made cakes and would sell slices for a tuna. There was even and old hillbilly name Chuck who had a special gnash recipe. At one point we even got it certified kosher! If someone wanted to and had the means he could have a personal chef and actually eat quite well in prison as long as he avoided the prison food.
Eventually I decided that waiting for the washing machine and drier was not for me. Laundry started becoming a two-hour event mainly because the people with the laundry business kept on hogging the machines. Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I decided to hire McCoy as by laundry man. McCoy was a 50 something African American who had been down a long time. Aside from his being very good at his job, race played a factor. I needed to make sure that I had protection from the various cliques and gangs. I already had the Puerto Ricans covered since Castro was on the Payroll, I had the white people through Pete, and now the African Americans through McCoy. For 15 tunas a month he would do my laundry twice a week which included folding and linens. He did a much better job folding than I could which was critical because of how little space inmates had. I also had a lot of laundry since I changed three times a day. McCoy offered an ironing service if you wanted to look extra crisp for visitors. This is where I drew the line. I was not paying for ironing in prison. Some people would have their uniforms altered. Luckily there was a tailor who could perform this service.
Anyone who had a skill set was able to generate income. There was a manicurist, a masseuse and even someone who was willing to shave your back for a tuna. There were inmates who fancied themselves prison lawyers who would type up legal briefs and even dole out legal advice. These were not lawyers by any stretch. They were simply inmates who claimed they knew how to type legal briefs. Why anyone would trust another inmate to help him get out of prison is beyond me. If he was that good, he probably would himself be out. There are plenty of prisoners who want to write a book. Unfortunately, they cannot type. There are typists who will charge a tuna per page to put handwritten notes onto a typewriter. There are inmates who are artists. For a negotiated fee, they will make something for your wife.
Of course, there is plenty of contraband. Aside for the cigarettes, there is plenty of booze ($50-$100 per bottle) and synthetic pot like k2 if an inmate wants. The real trophy is cell phones. There are a lot of cell phones and a few inmates managed to smuggle them in and would sell them. The easiest way was to get a guard on the payroll. However, like anything else plenty of phones came in simply by being thrown over the fence. I still remember one night when I walked in an saw someone facetiming his girlfriend!
So, what was my hustle? I actually did not have one. I was only going to be there for 10 months and it did not make much sense to go into business! I did however back into two businesses. The first came after I injured my elbow during one of my workout sessions with Pete. Prison healthcare is not exactly the best, so I was simply given me 800 mg Ibuprofen two times a day. After a couple of days, I was given a 30-day supply or a total of 60 pills! I had no use for so much pain medication. I quickly learned that there were plenty of inmates who wanted these pills. I decided to sell them for $5 per pill paid in tuna or any other way. I manage to sell around 20 of them which meant that for the rest of my time there my cleaning and laundry service did not actually cost me anything. I had to go to prison to become a drug dealer. Go figure.
I also managed to use my financial background to my benefit in prison. Tuna while an effective medium of exchange was useless if it was not somehow monetized. Anyone with a hustle found themselves with too much tuna and they needed to convert it into commissary money. My bunky was one such person. In addition to his VIP commissary service he also ran a small convenience store out of his locker. He always had 200-300 tunas at any time. He needed to convert it to cash so that he can go to the commissary and buy more inventory. I agreed to buy his tuna for $1.15 in commissary. I would normally buy 20 at a time so when I went shopping, I would allow him to spend $23 or so. The tuna I bought from him was able to be used to pay my vendors. What ended up happening was the following. I would buy tuna from my bunky. I would then use that tuna to pay Castro to make my bed. Castro would then go back to my bunky and buy a soda with that tuna and then my bunky would then sell me back that very tuna for $1.15! And the process would just repeat itself. I managed to figure out an arbitrage system within prison. I did have thoughts of opening a bank and arranging to hold tuna deposits and advance tuna loans, but I decided that it involved too much work for the amount of time I had remaining.
Prison, particularly prison camp, is really just a microcosm of real life. There really is a functioning economy. This is beneficial for everyone. For those with the means, it definitely improves a very unfortunate experience. For those who are willing to work, it gives them a method to earn some extra money that can be used for clothing, food or anything else. And there you have it: Prison Economics 101.
Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Like everyone else in the country, I have been waiting to see how long of a prison sentence Michael Cohen would receive today. If anyone read the filing submitted by the prosecutors last week, he would see that the guidelines called for Cohen to receive a 42-month sentence. Essentially, the judge gave him a break for being willing to throw the President under the bus, irrespective of whether his assertions are true.
Now it is time for a reality check. Michael Cohen is not going to spend three years in prison. In-fact, his total time in Federal Prison, if he plays his cards right, will be closer to one year, not the three that was advertised. Ironically, as I will point out, he would be facing less time in prison had he been sentenced to 37 months instead of 36 months.
So how does it really work? Firstly, everyone who behaves gets a 15% reduction in his sentence. For Cohen that means that his total prison term in closer to 30 months. Next, since Michael Cohen presumably had a good lawyer, he has disclosed an alcohol or drug dependency, as did I. For Cohen that means that he is eligible to enroll in RDAP (Residential Drug Abuse Program). The RDAP program lasts a little over nine months and focuses on the issues that lead to addiction and criminal behavior. A lot of time is spent on behavior modification. It is intense and takes up a good part of the day. RDAP inmates have their own dorm within the prison. RDAP inmates are held to a higher standard of behavior and if an RDAP prisoner messes up or if the RDAP staff feels a prisoner is not responding to the program, his graduation is delayed.
While prison life as an RDAP inmate is slightly more unpleasant than for everyone else, the reward for completing RDAP is time off from the sentence. The total time off is based on the total length of the sentence. An inmate with a 36-month sentence, before the good time reduction, is going to have his sentence reduced by nine months for completing the program. In Cohen's case that means his 30-month sentence will be lowered to 21 months. Beyond that, virtually everyone is assured that the last 10% of their sentence be served under home confinement where he is permitted to go to work every day. That takes Cohen down to 18 months in actual prison. Beyond that, everyone gets at least some time in a halfway house setting where they go to work every day and go home for the weekends. RDAP graduates need to spend part of their time in the halfway house going through additional counseling. As a result, and because there is a belief that addicts need more time to reintegrate into society, RDAP inmates generally get more time in the halfway house than non RDAP inmates.
Based on what I have seen, there is a better than good chance that Cohen will receive a least six months of time in the halfway house in addition to his three months of home confinement. Cohen will therefore likely serve about one year in actual prison and a total of nine months in the halfway house or home confinement. To put it another way, of the 36-month sentence handed down, only 33% of it will be served in actual prison.
There is a weird quirk in the calculation of time that a prisoner gets off for completing RDAP. On a 36-month sentence, a prisoner is eligible for nine months off his sentence. However, on a 37 month sentence he is eligible for a full year off his sentence. Had Cohen been sentenced to one additional month, he would have been at 31 months factoring in good time. He would have then had a full year taken off his sentence for completing RDAP for a total sentence of 19 months instead of 21. From there is would have taken the same 3 months off for home confinement which would have taken him down to 16 months. If he would have received the same six months of halfway house, he would have only done 10 months in actual prison. Of course, that would have been contingent on his being admitted to RDAP as soon as he arrives in prison since it does take over nine months to complete RDAP. It also assumes he doesn't do anything to delay his completion of the program.
So, Michael Cohen got a pretty good deal. He did what was best for himself and more importantly for his family as do over 80% of all defendants. However, as I mentioned six months ago, http://www.whitecollarguru.com/2018/07/michael-cohen-is-going-to-jail-and-it.html, when I predicted Cohen would go to prison, life in prison is not going to exactly pleasant for him. Being known as a snitch, even in a camp that could be exclusively white collar, is not a label that any prisoner wants placed on him. Yet Michael Cohen is going to enter prison as a snitch who tried to bring down a President. So, while 36 is going to really be 12 it is going to be the worst year of his life. Good Luck!
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
I am writing to you today to support and issue that is very important to me as well as hundreds of thousands of citizens in the state of Florida who like myself, are not eligible to vote. This November, Floridians will be voting on Amendment 4 that if passed will restore voting rights to former felons who have completed their sentences and all probationary periods. As it stands right now it is next to impossible for former felons, such as myself, to regain their right to vote in the State of Florida.
There are currently over 1.4 million citizens in the State of Florida, representing 10.5% of the total population who are not eligible to vote. This represents both the highest number as well as the highest percentage of any state in the country. While virtually every other state has enacted legislation to enable former felons to vote, Florida has been noted for its inaction and for its continued policy of disenfranchising 10% of the electorate. This November the voters have a chance to change that.
There are a few arguments that have been advanced against Amendment 4. The first argument objects on moral grounds. Those who advance it state that when someone commits a crime particularly a violent crime, they forfeit the right to vote. To those I say fear not, this amendment specifically excludes those who have committed violent crimes or sexual offenses.
There are those on the right of the spectrum who feel that this will only help the Democrats since felons by-and-large vote Democrat. I have no idea where this theory comes from but in my experience, it is untrue. I know this because I, Michael Szafranski, am a former felon. I have voted for the Republican party in every election since I was 18. I am an avid Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott supporter. By those on the right who would deny a former felon’s right to vote they are preventing me, a lifelong republican, from voting when every vote counts.
There are those who may counter that I represent a small minority of former felons and they would gladly deprive me of the right to vote if it means preventing hundreds of thousands of others from voting for the other party. This too, is incorrect. I spent my time in a prison camp. Prison camps are filled with white-collar offenders. Many, if not most, come from the finance industry and their crimes are non-violent in nature. When they are released from prison, they get jobs, pay taxes or start businesses. Most are, like myself, Republicans. I was in prison during the 2016 presidential campaign and it is safe to say that the camp was evenly split between those who would have voted for Hillary Clinton and for those who would have voted for Donald Trump. If I was to have taken a poll among those who had actually voted in prior presidential elections, 80% would have supported Donald Trump. To say that allowing former felons to vote would benefit Democrats is just plain wrong.
I therefore implore all of you, Republican and Democrat alike, to come out on election day and vote Yes on Amendment 4.
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