Tuesday, March 13, 2018

I'VE BEEN SCROOGLED (SCREWED BY GOOGLE)

I hate Google. I mean I really hate Google.

What do you do when you meet someone? You google him. There was a time when looking into the background of every person you met was considered borderline stalking. Now, it is almost an obligation to google any and every person you meet anywhere. Yes, I am guilty as well. Within two minutes of googling someone, I can see their Facebook profile, LinkedIn profile, and any article both good and bad that has been written about him. I also get to see who hates him so much that they decided to write about him on a message board to say how bad of a boyfriend he was in college.
This is the new normal.

For the recently released felon, this is a major impediment to resuming some sense of normalcy. My name is Michael Szafranski. Yes, it is spelled S Z A F R A N S K I. Yes, the Z is silent. No, I do not know why it is there. Yes, I know in Polish SZ is actually SH, but I make it silent. No, I did not think of changing it to make it easier for OTHER people to spell. This has been my life ever since I can remember. Oh, of course there of those times when I am on the phone with India giving over my information where I get to assign a word to each letter. S as in Sam, Z as in Zebra, and ending with I as in India (I used to say Indian but that apparently is taboo these days).

Surprisingly enough, Michael Szafranski is not as uncommon as one would think. Michael Szafranski from Tampa once called me demanding to be reimbursed because he paid my speeding ticket that I got in Seattle. It seems the State of Washington ignored the address on my license and sent him the bill when I forgot to pay the ticket. He paid it even though he had not been in Seattle since 1977. Hey, no one said all Michael Szafranskis were smart! Another Michael Szafranski was a colonel in the US air-force. Another one is a mildly famous skateboarder. And there is one especially unlucky Michael Szafranki who had a financial services company in Fort Lauderdale in 2009. And then there is me.
So while the name is unusual, it is not as unusual as one may think. Of course, when that name suddenly becomes attached to the most notorious financial fraud in South Florida history, that name becomes toxic.

I first became aware of my plight back in 2011 when I applied to become an AAMCO franchisee; clearly from a reputation standpoint I was finished in the money management business. They sat me down and showed me some articles that were about me. Obviously I had seen these articles when they came out.  Keep in mind that they paid an external company to do this. I simply told them that these were merely allegations and that I had no idea how this would turn out. Well this was enough for them. The fact that I was able to pay the franchise fee was also a mitigating factor. As I continued along my eight year odyssey I simply dealt with those sorts of situations. I figured that when I was finally cleared of all charges, it would not matter. Even if I did go to prison, when it was over, it would not matter. Yes, as was normally the case, I was delusional.

Well now here I am post release, and simply trying to move on. Yet, that damn google just will not let me. Two weeks ago a received a call from someone with whom I was trying to establish a business relationship. We had been in regular contact for about two weeks. He calls me on a Friday and says "Are you Michael Szafranski who was involved in that Rothstein thing?" Of course, I said yes. He then tells me that that must have been incredible and "How will you ever come back from that?" So as I stood there on my driveway with my middle finger at the phone, I basically told him that I am fortunate to have supportive friends and family and I someone does not want to do business with me well then frankly they can go to hell. Of course  he realized that I was not caught off guard by this question and told me that since my name is just so unusual he felt need to google me. I countered with "Don't you think that if I was trying to hide this, I would simply just change my name on my email? Clearly, I am not trying to hide anything!" I am not sure if this person was astute enough to realize that I was telling him to go to hell but I ended the call by saying that I have more pressing matters to focus on than people who have nothing better to do google people they have never met.

Today, literally an hour ago something similar happened. Without getting too much into detail I was working as an intermediary to put something together. Suddenly, yesterday, everyone one one side stopped calling me back. Then today I got a call from the side that I am still talking to that the side that won't call me back called them directly. They looked into my background and decided they would rather deal with the other side directly instead of with me as the intermediary. While I was assured by the one side who has no issue with me that I would not suffer in any way because of it, it was nevertheless demoralizing. What is even more galling is that they would not confront me directly.

So how do I now deal with this? How does any ex felon deal with this. Should I change my name just for "professional reasons"? Well the problem with that is that when the truth does come out, and it will, it looks as though I was trying to hide my past. This does not exactly reflect well on someone who has spent time behind bars. Do I change it legally? It may take longer, but again, it will likely come out at some point? Do I invest in one of the reputation repair companies that specialize in somehow moving the negative articles to page 2 of the google search? Let's get real, that will never work for me. Or do I silently take a screw you approach? You don't want to be in business with me?Well that's your loss. Do I make the decision to hold my head up high, not hide from anything, with the knowledge that what goes around does come around? With that I am showing people that I hide from nothing! No, it is all out there. You like it? Great. If you don't well that's on you. But at least I have the chutzpa to actually be true to who I am which is more than I can say for the people who sit at home googling everyone they meet.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Farmer in the Hell: State Senator Gary Farmer

Why do the good suffer while the evil prosper? Questions such as these have been asked by theologians and religious scholars since the beginning of time. Is it random or is it all part of a master plan?  aIf it is a plan then it is a plan that is bigger than us and beyond our comprehension to understand. The man of faith will certainly opt for the latter while the atheist will opt for the former approach. The fact remains that from our simplistic point of view, we cannot ascertain the reason and attempting to understand the complexities of the universe will likely drive a person insane.

The criminal justice system is not very different. In many ways it is a microcosm on the universe itself in that it seems that prosecutions are handed down at random. As was pointed out in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this week, if we are to become over zealous in prosecuting politicians, we will find that almost every American has violated some law at some point.

However, I am not even referring to that sort of randomness. No, what I am referring to is even within an individual case, it often seems as though prosecutors draw lots to determine who they are going to target and who they will leave alone. From the standpoint of a defendant, this can be very frustrating. Indeed, I myself have asked myself why I was targeted when many individuals, including many with whom I was associated did the same exact activity that landed me in in prison.  True, at the time we all believed we were doing nothing wrong, but at the end of the day, I  agreed to plead guilty to something done my plenty of others alongside me. Yet they were not prosecuted. Is it fair? No. I did not let it bother me and simply chalked it up to the fact that I was, as a result of my own actions and position, more visible than the others. Besides, it isn't as if I was going to tell the feds to prosecute other people. Sometimes you just have to accept your fate. I was completely past it. At least I thought I was.

I am going to try to keep this brief as much of this will be covered in the book. As with any Ponzi scheme, the perpetrator cannot work alone; he needs co-conspirators. Since Scott Rothstein was in the structured settlement business, he needed lawyers to vouch for what he was doing. Without going into detail, during the summer of 2009, many of the settlements were class action type lawsuits. Now Rothstein, was a labor and employment  lawyer and class action law was clearly, by his own admission outside his area of expertise. Well, it is a good thing he was head of a lawyer with a class action division! It is even better that the head of that division was none other than Gary Farmer. Yes Gary Farmer who is now State Senator Gary Farmer from Broward County.

So who was Gary Farmer? Well by all accounts, Gary Farmer was a damn good lawyer. Scott touted his as his "qui tam and class action" guy. Indeed, Gary Farmer was involved in one of the largest whistle blower cases in history whereby Eli Lilly entered into a $1.42 billion settlement for unlawful marketing of a drug called Zyprexa. Bob Norman, who has done his share of inaccurate hit jobs on me does a pretty nice hob summing it up. http://www.browardpalmbeach.com/news/inside-the-rothstein-swindle-part-ii-6449360 It also seems that Gary Farmer settled two other cases against Eli Lilly at his firm set up with RRA alumni Seth Lehrman and Brad Edwards. (We will get to Edwards another time)

Now obviously, when Rothstein started marketing class action cases, we were curious how he migrated from run of the mill Stormy Daniels type settlements to cases involving companies that were doing billions in revenues every year. Scott told me that all questions regarding these cases should simply be directed to Gary Farmer. Gary, he told me, "sees things in cases and is able to find class action cases from one plaintiff". I decided that I was going to google Gary Farmer to see if he really was involved in a billion dollar settlement and sure enough, it checked out. So when Scott suggested that I speak to Farmer, that is exactly what I did.

Multiple times, in the office and at the bar downstairs I spoke with Gary Farmer about the "confidential class action cases" against Pratt and Whitney and Dole Foods. Gary confirmed that these were his cases and that he was involved in the qui tam case itself. He and Scott, he told me, were waiting for the right time to present this to the federal government. So now I had confirmation. Gary and I spoke a few times over the next few months, but then after the collapse I basically forgot about him. But make no mistake about it, now-Senator Gary Farmer made it clear that these settlements were real and that he was involved in the cases.

One thing that inmates do in prison is watch TV. It really is our only way of knowing what is going on in the world. Imagine my surprise one day when watching one of the local channels, I see that Gary Farmer was running for State Senator from Broward County. I even remarked to someone that there us no way this guy can win. Someone,  I thought, would dig up all of the Rothstein dirt. Surprisingly, it never happenned. On election night, while the rest of the country was shocked to see that Trump had won the presidency, I was more shocked to see that Gary Farmer was victorious in his race as well. How could this be?  But again I forgot about it. Then three weeks ago, I watched as Senator Gary Farmer stood on the podium with the survivors of the Stoneman Douglas school shooting and again I was amazed that this man, aside from not having been prosecuted is now holding elective office and holding himself out a savior for these victims. Unbelievable!!!!

Now this is not meant to be an expose on Gary Farmer. The fact remains, however, that had Gary Farmer simply told the truth, Rothstein would have imploded a lot earlier on. Hundreds of millions of dollars would not have been invested in these supposed class action cases. Based on what I ultimately did plea to, I  in all likelihood would not t been indicted or gone to prison. But Gary Farmer was probably making more at RRA than at his previous job and did exactly what his boss told him to do. And for that, many people paid the price.

So why wasn't Gary Farmer prosecuted? Why was he not even disbarred? How is he now holding public office? Maybe the prosecutors felt there simply was not enough on him. Maybe he was just not important enough. Or maybe, just maybe it really is all random. One thing is for certain; the people of Broward could do much better.

Of course it also helps when your father was a chief judge on the 4th District Court of Appeals! http://www.4dca.org/judges/farmer.shtml





WHEN FRIENDS BECOME ENEMIES AND SECRETS ARE REVEALED

Getting implicated in a crime comes with many challenges. There are financial challenges, social challenges, and of course familial challen...