In a recent case coming out of America’s health care fraud epicenter south Florida, 3 hucksters just admitted to scamming 22 federal inmates out of millions of dollars. And what were these inmates – and their families – expecting in return for their payments? Time shaved off their sentences for cooperating, through the scammers’ efforts on the outside, as reported by The Miami Herald:
A trio of confidence artists from Texas have pleaded guilty to pretending to use informants and law enforcement to help federal inmates in Miami-Dade County obtain credit for providing information on crimes so they could qualify for sentence reductions.
Relatives of at least 22 inmates paid out $4.4 million to the threesome: Alvin James Warrick, 40, and Colitha Patrice Bush, 36, both of Beaumont, who operated a company called Private Services, and Ronald Bennett Shepherd, 32, of Houston, the firm’s treasurer.
Each of the three defendants pleaded guilty last month to a fraud conspiracy charge that carries up to 20 years in prison, though Shepherd is expected to receive a shorter sentence because he only had a supporting role.
None of their inmate clients ever provided any useful information or received shorter prison terms during the course of their scheme, which ran from 2009 to 2016.
As if the federal cooperation game wasn’t icky enough already (e.g., rat on your closest and toughest confederates, and get some time off your sentence at the government’s pleasure), these inmates’ families were bilked out of millions in exchange for nada, zilch. At an average of about $200K per inmate, that’s a nice chunk of change that could’ve gone to pay for familial expenses on the outside, a defense lawyer’s assistance with cooperating, or for plenty of the BOP’s most exquisite cuisine.
It may even be worse than zilch, because these inmates may have been placed in danger if all the back and forth between them, their families, and the con artists may have created an aura of cooperation on the inside. There’s always something about words that rhyme with “snitches”…
Yes, the article and even the court’s docket will list the inmates as the victims, but in reality the people who lost some hard-earned cash were the families who were willing, and most importantly, able to fork over the cash. In all likelihood, these inmates were already destitute by the time they reached their cell at FCI Miami.
After restitution has been ordered, and the government moved to garnish whatever’s left après le déluge, these low-to-middle-flying convicts (FCI Miami is a low-security prison) are left with a pittance, at best. If anything, they would have sought to make the government whole with whatever they had left so as to hopefully seek a break during sentencing. So the con artists knew where there was no money left, and thus went to where all the money was: the families.
As part of the scheme, Warrick and Bush provided fake invoices and fraudulent documents showing agreements benefiting inmates between various U.S. attorney’s offices, including two in New York, and Private Services.
“In fact, the agreements were fake, the prosecutors’ signatures were forged, and no substantial assistance was provided on behalf of these inmates,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami.
Instead, the three defendants received regular payments from the relatives of federal inmates for their personal use, including spending the money on luxury cars, vacations and gambling activities.
When you really think about it, it’s not that hard of a sell, at first at least. These are inmates who’ve likely never been to prison before and they, along with their families, are scared shitless as they go through the system. Guess if they waive some shiny documents “proving” results with prosecutors’ names on them, and are good enough salesmen, they can seal the scam.
But there are gaps in how this all went down. Perhaps the inmates and their families exhausted their retainers with the defense lawyers, yet they still had the dough to give to these conniving mutts. Did they not contact their defense lawyers? A ten-second phone call to a competent practitioner would have put these victims on notice that this was a scam.
Jailhouse lawyers don’t really help much despite good intentions, but even a sharp-eyed one might have raised a red flag. Were these con artists that good to keep this going for so long, with so many inmates, while collecting millions?
There’s a whole non-lawyer, and not necessarily criminal, industry that “helps” those on the inside. Take, for example, the BOP’s residential drug abuse program, or RDAP. Those who enroll are eligible for benefits that include time off their sentences, time in a half-way house. Yet, there’s a slew of “prison consultants” on the outside who seek to get paid in exchange for assisting the inmates with getting in the program. As with anything in life, these consultants vary in competence and experience, but if the inmate lands the wrong one, it will likely bring more harm.
A side effect to these cases involving the scam is that perhaps some of the inmates felt like they sold a part of their soul as they worked toward building more cases for the government, with the (distant?) hope of catching a break. They never got a sentencing discount for their effort, but at least no more lives were harmed because of it.