About Me

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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 mike@whitecollarguru.com with any questions.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Jew Haters Be Gone!

I try not to get angry. There are a few reasons for this but I have come to realize than getting angry produces few if any tangible results. However, I am not perfect (shocking, I know) and when I see blatant hatred stemming from ignorance and self righteousness I do get angry. I am not naive. I know anti-semitism exists and have come to accept it. I no longer get angry when I see other races making the most ridiculous and incorrect statements about Jews. I just do not care. However, what does anger me to no end is when I see the same type of anti-Jewish rhetoric coming from within the Jewish community. I am well aware this is completely off topic when compared to my other entries, but I do think that as I write it, a message that transcends religion and the underlying theme of anti semitism will emerge.

Last week I wrote about the release of Rabbi Sholom Rubashkin. I spoke about how happy I was to see him reunited with his family and how in many ways he was a true hero. That is my opinion and I am sticking to it. I even made reference to an article in a  Jewish publication about how he is not a hero. Obviously, I disagreed with the tone of the article, but everyone is free to have an opinion. What I did not like, and took offense to was the many Facebook posts by Orthodox Jews that I came across ridiculing the hero's welcome that Rubashkin received. They felt that while his sentence may have been disproportionate, the fact remains that he was convicted of a crime and therefore is not "deserving" of such an extravagant reception. And that was the kindest of the comments.

My first response to all you haters, is a question: Why do you care? Why does it bother you that people are rejoicing that his sentence was commuted? Do you think that you are so important that it is a reflection on you? Well guess what, you are not that important. Do you think that your opinions are so important that you are entitled to offer them even if they are based on ignorance? Guess what, they aren't. Are you so principled that when you perceive people acting in a manner that you do not agree with, you just cannot help yourself and must raise your voice to combat the injustice? To that I make the following observation: anyone who has ever made the argument that it is "the principle" is really using that as an excuse to cover up another motive. It never is the principle. For whatever reason, and I am talking primarily to the Modern Orthodox community with which I identify, you are threatened by how Rubashkin looks and the lifestyle he epitomizes. You feel the need to compensate for your own religious insecurities by spending your days pointing out problems within the branches of more traditional brands of Orthodoxy. Pointing out that they are glorifying a "criminal" makes you feel that your brand of Orthodoxy is more correct and that "they" are a bunch of hypocrites. Obviously, there is no one who committed a crime in the Modern Orthodox community. Oh that's right, they look like you and me so it's OK.

As to the argument that he is a criminal and criminals should not be glorified, I say this. Firstly, for purposes of this discussion I will entertain the possibility that this is a valid reason for you to be upset that others are celebrating. I will give you that Rubashkin was convicted of a crime. I am not going to point out all of the problems with the trial but yes it is true that he was convicted. I say it again, Rubashkin is a convicted felon. Does that mean he committed the crime for which he was convicted? Well I do not know the answer to that an neither do you. You believe what you read. Have you looked at all of the evidence? I sure haven't! Have you actually been through the criminal justice system? I should hope not, but I have been through it. What most of people do not know even though I have written about it, is that the system is on its best day biased. Prosecutors can twist evidence in any way they want without any repercussions. In general juries tend tp believe prosecutors. I have sat in discussions with prosecutors where they come up with something that is so far from the truth and they twist the evidence to conform to their version of the truth. When you challenge them, do you know what they say? And I quote: "Who do you think the jury will believe us or you?" They can set any narrative they want. Oh and by the way, they spend the months leading up to the trial poisoning the jury pool by leaking their version of events to the press.  Obviously no defendant is going to lay out his defense in the press, so the press only gets one side. Do you think anyone in Postville, Iowa had not heard about the case as well as the narrative spun by the prosecutors by the time it went to trial?  The point is a conviction does not necessarily mean a crime was actually committed.

To the principled objector I say the following: Are you so perfect? Have you never committed any crime. If the government were to take a hard look at you and spend even a year investigating every aspect of your life, do you think for a second that you will come up squeaky clean? Have you never made a mistake on your taxes? I have some news for you, if you made a mistake on your taxes or even if your accountant was overly aggressive which resulted in a lower payment, the IRS can very well decide that this was not a "mistake", and  that this was not "aggressive". No they can decide that you deliberately evaded taxes. According to the IRS website that can get you up to five years in prison. Here is another example for those of you who pay extra taxes just to make sure that doesn't happen to you. I am sure most of you drive on a regular basis. Have you seen those black and white signs on the street? Those signs post speed limits. By law you are not allowed to go above the speed limit. I challenge anyone in this country to show me that they abide by the speed limit 100% of the time. Most of the time we do not get caught and even if we do usually we get a fine or our lawyer handles it for us. Now imagine you your wife was late picking the kids up and was going 45 MPH in a 30 zone.  Now imagine that as she was rushing, a 4 year old kid ran into the street and before your wife can see the child, she hits it and the child dies. Suddenly your wife just became a murderer and can be charged with reckless driving and even involuntary manslaughter. She will probably go to jail. The fact that we do not get caught for many of the crimes we commit every day does not make us any less criminals. Unfortunately we are judged on the results of our actions and not on the actions themselves. Two people may both lie on their mortgage applications. Meanwhile one person strikes it rich while the other loses his job and cannot pay his mortgage. The bank looks into to person who is in default and discovers the lie. He gets charged with bank fraud and goes to prison while the other person, who committed the exact same crime faces no consequences.


Getting back to the wife example. Let's now assume she had to go to prison. Now, she gets out earlier than expected. You, her loving husband are so happy to have her home. The kids are ecstatic that they no longer have to exclusively eat take out for dinner. You decide you are going to make a celebration in honor of her return. It may be a dinner or it may be a party. How would you like it if someone said, how dare you throw a celebratory dinner, the woman is a murderer! She was even convicted of it. Now you know your wife to be anything but a murderer. You are happy she is home. She is your family. With regard to Rubashkin, many people felt like his family. Be it members of Chabad, Satmar or other parts of traditional orthodoxy, they simply felt as though he is a family member. Incidentally, I have found that most members of Chabad tend to be related. Well the family came out to celebrate! Why would you want to get involved and protest a familial celebration. It is none of your business anyway! No one is forcing you to actually, heaven forbid, celebrate the release of another Jew from prison. That would just be crazy. But do everyone a favor and keep your moth shut; no one needs to hear your negativity. Just leave well enough alone.

Now, again to my Modern Orthodox brethren I have another matter for you to consider. We all believe in repentance. Maimonides states that so important is repentance that when done correctly the sin is eradicated and is as if it has never happened. We are not even allowed to remind a person of his prior indiscretions! We are obligated to treat this person as though he never did anything wrong. Sadly, the US criminal justice system does not subscribe to this philosophy as we ex felons never have our rights fully restored, but Jewish law and I think most religious doctrine is clear; once a person has been punished it is as though the sin never took place. I am sure that even in the Modern Orthodox community we read Maimonides. I can tell you first hand, that while we may read it, sadly, we do not practice it; the traditional groups are much better at this. Now before you jump down my throat, I am not saying that people who are serious threats to the community such a child abusers, etc are to be welcomed as clearly we need to protect our children, but by in large we embrace the idea of repentance. What I am saying is that even if Rubashkin did commit the crimes that he was convicted of, he has certainly paid the price and certainly would have repented by now. To begrudge him celebrations based on actions that may or may not have been committed 10 years ago is contradictory to Jewish law. As far as I can tell, Modern Orthodoxy still embraces Jewish Law.

How do you think other branches of Judaism or even those from other religions are looking at you if they actually are reading the hateful words that you are writing? Do you think they are saying that you are "enlightened" for speaking out against the celebrations or do you think you look like a traitor to your own people. Like it or not, we are all one family. To air our dirty laundry in public is a disgrace. As the saying goes, if you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing. By publicly coming out against your own people you come across as someone so ashamed of his heritage that he needs to ingratiate himself in the eyes of others. In other words you are a self hater. You are no better than some members of other races who begrudge their heritage with the goal of gaining favor with others. It is disgusting.

So maybe I did get some important points across at least for those dealing with former felons. To assume that just because someone was convicted he is guilty is incorrect. It is also important to embrace those who have paid for their crimes and help them rejoin society. However, if you cannot help someone, then at the very least stay our of the way and let others rejoice his return to his family without your negativity. Then again, haters gonna hate hate hate.

Friday, December 22, 2017

RUBASHKIN

People are connected. I am not talking about personal relationships with friends and family. Often times we are connected to people we do not even know.  This can be through any sort of medium such a race, religion, professional affiliation of political affiliation. Even though we do not know each other, we are "connected".  As a Jew, I feel connected and sympathize with the plight of another Jew in distress even if I do not know him. The African American community came together to protest what they viewed as widespread discrimination by law enforcement even though 99.9% of those protesting had never even met or heard of the perceived victim.

Life experiences also bond people. There is a bond that exists between those of us who have had the unfortunate experience of going to prison. It is a bond that transcends race and religion. When we can we help one another both inside and outside and always hope for our friends to be released and be successful upon their release from prison. It is not a connection that anyone can understand; you have to have been to prison to really understand.

Yesterday, Sholom Rubashkin was granted clemency by President Donald Trump. I have never met Rabbi Rubashkin, and yet, I feel intimately  connected to him; firstly as a Jew and in many ways even more so as a former inmate. The criminal justice system is at its best skewed against even a guilty defendant and at its worst a system where prosecutors can persecute even the most innocent to further a personal agenda or their own careers.  Rubashkin, in my opinion represented one of the greatest white collar  miscarriages of justice in US history both in terms of how he was convicted and in terms of the outrageously disproportionate sentence of 28 years that he received. I am not going to go into the prosecutorial misconduct that was so pervasive both in terms of his indictment, but there can me no argument made that even if he was guilty, a 28 year sentence was completely out of line. It showed the criminal justice system at its absolute worst.

 The joy I felt when I read the news yesterday afternoon, and when I watched the thousands who came out to celebrate with him through the night was unlike anything I have felt since my own release 15 months ago. While Jews across the world of all stripes celebrated his release, because of their religious connection to him, I had an additional sense of joy and happiness for someone who was the victim of a system that functioned at its worst when he was sentenced. Finally, his prayers were answered and he walked out of the prison where, as he said yesterday "they thought they would bury me." It took eight years but President Trump granted him a reprieve that was long delayed.

Rubashkin is an inspiration to us all. I cannot even fathom the idea of facing 28 years in prison. To say it is daunting is an understatement. It would leave me depressed and probably even contemplating suicide. I was apprehensive about my relatively short sentence! I think that had I even faced the possibility of 28 years I would have fallen into a deep depression even prior to heading to prison.   How someone can keep his sanity when facing the prospect of being away from his friends and family for 28 years is beyond me. And yet, I have spoken to many who visited him in prison and they have said that he was always happy and kept his faith in G-d. Not only that he served as a counselor to other inmates who felt hopeless while incarcerated.

Rubashkin received a hero's welcome. But is he a hero? A few articles written in the liberal Jewish press have taken the position that he is not a hero. The articles written were so scathing and harsh that had they been written in the New York Times, we would all be pointing out the obvious Anti Semitic tones. While I have an extreme dislike for those who have written them, I assure you Rabbi Rubashkin does not. He has a personality that from what I am told leads him to have a feeling of love toward every human being.  How Rubashkin kept his faith during this horrible struggle for him and his family while facing such a bleak future is mystifying. So yes, Rubashkin is a hero; if not because he was quite possibly wrongly convicted by a biased process then for the fact that he was able to withstand everything that was thrown at him and managed to come out smiling on the other side. Justice delayed is still justice achieved.

So my message to Rubashkin is simply Mazal Tov. Mazal Tov to you and to your family who had to suffer for way to long. I admire you for the strength you have shown and for the inspiration you have provided to others who unfortunately find themselves in a similar position. It is my most sincerest hope that because of this horrible experience you reach to greatest of heights befitting a man of your unique special character and of the hero you are. Mazal Tov Mazal Tov!

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth-King Solomon in Our Days

King Solomon at the end of of Ecclesiastes states that in the end, everything is heard. While there have been many Jewish and Christian interpretations to this verse of the past thousands of years, taken at face value, it simply means that nothing stays hidden forever and in the end everything comes out. One has to look any further than the present day to realize that while secrets may remain hidden and while sins may be dormant, ultimately everything comes into view for everyone to see. King Solomon is as right today as he was thousands of years ago when these words were written.

Entertainment, political and athletic icons are falling every day. From Bill Cosby to Charlie Rose, to Al Franken to Matt Lauer to Marshall Faulk, we have seen scions of various sectors go down in blazes of glory in a way not witnessed since in modern history. Sins that have been perpetrated for decades are finally being brought to light. The dirtiest of secrets are being revealed for all to see. Individuals have been living collective lies by maintaining  public personas embodying values and integrity while living private lives bereft of any moral code. Some have gotten away with it for decades and some for only years. However the day of reckoning is upon us and all the sins are finally being revealed.


Now I don't mean to vent about the disgusting behavior of more than a few individuals. No, I mean to relate this to the person who is justifiably in unjustifiably who is caught in the cross hairs of the criminal justice system. The first is just practical advice. Never lie. If a defendant has decided to accept a plea so as to avoid the risks of trial, he needs to get everything out in the open when speaking with the prosecutors. As a practical matter, they have so many resources at their disposal that if a defendant decides to hide something or be less than truthful they will in all likelihood discover the misrepresentation. The negative consequences of these untruths being discovered are real. The prosecutors can revoke a plea or give less favorable terms. If a defendant is hoping for a cooperation reduction in his sentencing that can be taken away as well. Lying to a federal officer is in and of itself a crime. Lastly, once a plea has been agreed upon, for the most part, although check with a lawyer first, anything else revealed will not open a person up to new charges. By way of example, there are many levels of securities fraud. If the defendant is guilty of a worse crime than his plea deal incorporates, the prosecutors generally know about it. They are offering the plea for the same reason the defendant is willing to take it. So when the plea is agreed upon, and the prosecutor asks for the full story, truth is of the essence. 


For someone who is simply being interviewed by the authorities, it is better so say nothing than lie to them. As US citizens we all have the right to remain silent, and that is certainly better than lying and risk being brought up on charges of lying to a federal agent. Lying is also difficult. As I was told during my case, always tell the truth because the truth is light. Once a lie comes out your mouth, you are constantly trying to remember the story and then make up new lies to cover the old lies. This never ends well. Considering the truth will come out eventually, it's better to shut your mouth than try to explain everything away with a lie.


The second point that needs to be made will be of some solace and consolation to anyone who has either been indicted or even ended up going to prison. I maintain that for every person who has been indicted for a crime there are another 100 who can be indicted for a similar crime. Why the government decides to prosecute one person over another is anyone's guess. Sometimes it is political, sometimes it comes down to the evidence, and sometimes it is a matter of laziness. Prosecutors have tremendous leeway when choosing who to prosecute. The Supreme Court set a very high standard and ruled that just because two people commit the same crime does not mean that prosecutors have to charge both of them. The exception would obviously be if the decision to prosecute or not prosecute is based on race, etc. In other words two traders can both obtain insider information and, all things being equal, the prosecution can decide to indict one of them but not the other. 


I have mentioned that there are very few crimes where only one person is involved, even if none of those involved realized that crimes were being committed. Fair or not, not everyone is going to be prosecuted. For the person that ultimately does time in prison, a level of resentment will develop. He will feel that if everyone essentially committed the same act, why is he sitting in prison away from his family when some of his former partners seem to have escaped any threat of prosecution. He will resent it even more if during his time being prosecuted, his former partners decide to engage in a form of revisionist history and decide they were in no way involved. Obviously they need to tell themselves that, but the fact remains that two people were committing an act together that they may or may not know to be illegal and yet, one is sitting in prison and the others are not only avoiding prosecution but are denying that they were ever even associated with him. To make things worse because of the defendants legal situation they will even try to cast themselves off as victims. Of course, he would never try to get them similarly incarcerated, but the resentment remains. 


The reality, however, even if they do not go to prison, they will not be able to hide from their past forever. Eventually, things have a way of coming out and while they may have been able to have their involvement concealed for a time, ultimately it will all be displayed for the public to see. Sometimes this can come in the form of an overzealous reporter and sometimes it can come in the way of an unrelated legal situation. 


My case itself is no different. While not getting into the details of my plea, what I can say for certain was that there were multiple people connected to me that committed the same exact overt acts that I committed and I don't know that any of us thought we were violating the law. There are people who considered themselves victims when in truth, they were anything but. When I was the object of public scrutiny, they did everything in their power to distance themselves from me. Some of these were friends and some of these were merely colleagues. Do I blame them? We I don't know if I blame them but I certainly would not have conducted myself the same way. I still remember someone who called in a drunken state  me on November 1, 2009 and threatened me, claiming I stole his money and yet if anyone deserved to serve time it was him. Yet, he managed to pretend he was a victim. Sure, there were a few who stayed by my side and those are the true friends, but those were clearly the minority.


As it turns out, even these individuals will not be able to hide forever. Many of them were identified in other avenues of the case and were brought into the pubic spotlight then. But when that does not work, a former defendant can simply write a book, which of course what I am doing. Now I am not here to push my book; that will sell itself. What I am here to do is point out that this book will be a tell all. All of these people, those who pretended to be victims while they were not, those who were very happy to be my partners and committed the same acts when things were good but denied any involvement when things went bad will be exposed. Am I being petty? Maybe. The way I look at it, I could have done a lot more damage in 2010. I took the the bulk of the heat and declined to implicate anyone in the civil or criminal avenues. Had I done it then, while it may not have altered the course of the prosecution, more than a couple of careers would have been destroyed. Doing it now will have little if any financial impact. Much of what I will reveal has not been reported anywhere and those individuals have had virtually no public exposure. Until now.


The truth is a funny thing. It never stays hidden forever. There is no one who would want everything about their life revealed; we all have too many secrets. And that is OK. The problem arises when we run from the truth or try to bury it. It is then that the truth, because it is so aggressively suppressed reveals itself with a vengeance. In the end, everything is known.




Monday, December 11, 2017

Never Let Others Define You

Last week President Trump made an announcement that sent shock waves throughout the Middle East. By announcing the the United States was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and would move the US embassy there, he was, in his own words acknowledging the reality that is already on the ground. The fact that this came as a surprise is itself surprising since this is essentially what he had said he would do throughout his campaign. Whether one likes Trump or hates him the one thing that is clear  is that for better or for worse, he has tried to do follow through on his campaign pledges.

The reaction to the announcement was swift. Trump's supporters, many of which are right of center Jews and Evangelical Christians cheered the announcement while muslims across the Middle East issued statements of strong condemnation and even engaged in engaged in violent protests. The leader of Hamas even called for another Intifada, ignoring the obvious truth that previous intifadas have accomplished nothing. In Jerusalem itself, ironically, the reaction was relatively muted. So whereas right of center Jews in the US were jumping for joy, the Jews in Jerusalem did not really pay attention. Whether the US or anyone else considers Jerusalem to be the capital is of little concern to them as they have already accepted that truth since either 1948 or 1967, depending on where in Jerusalem one happens to live. In other words, it did not affect them at all. The view of the Israeli is admirable as it shows a lack of concern for how others view them; what matters is how they view themselves.

Someone who is caught of in a criminal investigation will be subject to may different labels assigned to him by either the prosecutors, the media, the judge,  and even the prison system. Prior to being indicted or arrested, he will be called a Suspect or a Target. Following an indictment he will be called a Defendant. If convicted, he will be called a Felon. Once incarcerated he will become an Inmate. Finally, once released, he becomes and Ex-Felon. Obviously, none of these labels is remotely flattering, and the longer a case drags one the more demoralizing these labels become. Unfortunately, it does not end there. Prosecutors, and the press can and will resort to name calling and plenty of former friends will do so as well. The prosecutors themselves called me a terrible, immoral person to my face and the press was equally harsh. Of course, the labels ascribed by friends and former friends are even worse simply because we expect our friends to know us better and, while the prosecutors and the press have the courtesy to insult you to your face, members of a social circle will try to do so only behind your back.

The key to mentally surviving the ordeal is not let any of these labels matter. While someone is defendant in a case, he should not allow him to fall into the trap that this label defines him. Even someone is a felon who did commit crimes, the felon label is based on person who existed in the past, it does not define who he is now. In prison, it becomes even more difficult because to the prison guards, everyone is simply an Inmate. Individuality gets checked at the gate once a person enters the prison walls. It is all to easy, when surrounded by other prisoners, many of whom have either been in prison for a long time or who really are bad people for a person to think that all he is is a prisoner. But like all the other terms, a prisoner is not who you are or even who you were; rather, it is simply statement of circumstance. Once a prisoner thinks of himself a just a prisoner, he enters the long road to despair that will encapsulate him even following release.

It is important to realize, at any stage of the criminal justice process that while there are many things the government can take from a defendant, namely freedom, there are many things they cannot take, unless you let them. They cannot take your intellect, they cannot take your sanity and most importantly, they can never take away who you are, if you do not let them do so. They will try to define you, demoralize you and make you feel as though you are nothing more than a low life felon who has no rights. They will use every ploy, and too often they are successful. However, if you make up the mind, that it is not the government, nor the press, not your friends who define you, but it is only you who can do so, you will maintain your mental health both inside as well as outside the prison walls.

The Story of Bull Schitter. A Tale of Karma

any similarity to actual events is merely coincidental Once upon a time in a city in South Florida there was a lawyer. This lawyer...