The United States vs. Douglas LaBell
He felt Earl grip his elbow and steady him as his knees buckled slightly at the judge’s pronouncement. Hundreds of thousands of dollars to Earl, his minions, and his firm and this judge finds me guilty? This can’t be happening. Doug felt like he was suffocating. Always the one with the plan and in control of events large and small, the seasoned businessman was becoming disoriented and dizzy with the startling outcome.
The noise of the judge shifting papers was the only sound heard as seemingly everyone in the courtroom held their breath waiting for her to continue. The judge adjusted her glasses and peered over the rims and focused on Doug.
“Mr. Douglas LaBell, you shall report to this federal courthouse in five days before noon on the fifth day. I recommend that you take this time to order your affairs. From the courthouse, you will be transported to a federal detention facility to serve a twenty-four-month sentence. Failure to report on time will result in the issuance of a warrant for your arrest by the Federal Marshal service and the addition of twelve months to your sentence. Do you have any questions, Mr. LaBell?” asked the judge.
A rising murmur of voices was silenced by the crack of the judge’s gavel. Doug had no words, eyes wide with shock and visibly supporting himself only with Earl’s help. Earl spoke up, “My client has no questions, your Honor. He will appear at the courthouse at the appointed time.”
“This court is adjourned.” The judge addressed the room in a loud voice. And with another rap of the gavel, everyone rose to their feet and the judge left the bench for her quarters.
“What happens now?” asked Doug to no one in particular.
“You’re in shock Doug. Let’s get out of here and get you home,” said Earl, leading his lurching client toward the courtroom door.
A New Reality
Mid-morning the next day, LaBell had his driver take him to an appointment with Earl at the offices of Fisher & Associates. He had been angry on the drive across town and was simmering toward rage as he rode the elevator alone. Earl’s long-legged administrative assistant rose from behind her Mission Style desk to her full 5’11” as Doug entered the attorney’s anteroom. She smiled, “Mr. LaBell, Mr. Smithford is expecting you.”
Doug muttered, “He damn well better be expecting me.”
The assistant opened the heavily paneled wood door and Doug walked through with a practiced gravitas, planning an indignant verbal salvo. She noiselessly closed the door behind him.
Upon entering the office, Doug saw another well-worn visitor seated comfortably in one of a matched pair of upholstered chairs facing the polished expanse of Earl’s antique Gustav Stickley desk. Doug held his tongue. The other two men rose to their feet as Doug walked toward the vacant chair.
“Doug, I’d like you to meet Tom Levant,” said Earl by way of introduction.
Doug reached for Tom’s outstretched hand. Tom was a big man with a firm handshake. Doug was pretty sure it would be ill-advised to test that grip. He looked into a face that bore a wry grin partly hidden beneath a greying horseshoe mustache. In contrast, the man’s skull was completely hairless, a nearly flawless tanned globe with large brown eyes leveled at Doug.
“Glad to meet you, Doug,” said Tom in a soothing baritone.
“Tom is a prison consultant”, offered Earl as an explanation of the visitor’s presence.
Doug dropped Tom’s hand, collapsed into the chair, leveled his gaze at the lawyer, and began to rip Earl a new one.
“I didn’t pay you all that money just to have some self-righteous jacked-up woman send me to prison,” he boomed with his strident boardroom voice.
Still standing, Earl held out his palms toward Doug, “Slow down Doug, we’re working on an appeal, but we have to think about the here and now.”
“I hired you and your firm to keep me out of trouble,” continued Doug. “From where I sit, this looks like an epic fail for Fisher & Associates.”
Earl sat down. “We did our best Doug, but the reality is that you were caught red-handed. With the abundance of evidence against you, all we could do was minimize the blast radius.”
“I didn’t do anything that isn’t done a thousand times a day by people all across the country,” claimed Doug, ranting at the unfairness of the verdict.
“But you slipped up and let yourself get caught,” Earl reminded him.
“May I interrupt for a minute?” asked Tom. Neither Doug nor Earl responded. Tom took the ensuing silence as permission to continue.
“An appeal will take time and the reality is that in 5 days, you are going to be housed in federal prison, Mr. LaBell. I expect, that like most people accused of white collar crimes, you’ve never really considered what incarceration will look or feel like. You owe it to yourself to mitigate the very serious risks to your dignity, integrity, and well being that you are about to face.”
Doug did not respond, his gaze downcast. He fidgeted, twisting the wedding band on his finger.
“Your reputation is going to take a serious hit no matter what you do. Family, friends, and business associates all have perceptions that will need to be managed so that you can pick up your life after you’ve served your sentence. You’ve heard the term hard time?” asked Tom.
Tom watched Doug expectantly. After a few moments of silence, Doug looked up at Tom and finally nodded yes.
“You want to avoid hard time at all costs, Mr. LaBell. Trust me, it is critical to know what you are getting into and how to preserve your dignity in spite of losing your freedom. You will be subject to a set of written and unwritten rules you’ve never thought about. You want to come out of prison as unscathed as possible and ready to return to your own life. Think Martha Stewart, Bernie Madoff, and Michael Vick. They’re all doing fine after serving their sentences,” Tom looked at Earl who took the cue.
“They didn’t do it alone,” said Earl. “People with stature invest in their lives during and after prison by hiring experts like Tom to develop incarceration action plans. Think of it as a business plan to cover the next couple of years.”
“What about the appeal?” asked Doug with some desperation.
“All part of the plan, Mr. LaBell,” said Tom smoothly. “We’ll also want to make sure that even if the appeal doesn’t pan out, that you have options. For example, sentences for non-violent offenders like yourself can be reduced in a number of ways. Good behavior can lead to eligibility for work release programs, early parole, continuing executive education, and other programs that let you serve a portion of the sentence at home.”
“Tom has suggested that we immediately petition the judge for an assignment to a Minimum Security Federal prison camp. I’ll make that specific request on your behalf after we discuss your needs and facility characteristics. I know how much you value your tennis game, Doug,” encouraged Earl.
Still feeling the sting of having spent a large sum of money on the unsuccessful defense, Doug grumbled, “What’s this going to cost me?”
“Mr. LaBell, my consultancy offers a wide range of services,” said Tom. “Every client is unique, and we strive to meet individual needs. Mr. Smithford has told me a little about you and I’ve done some research in preparation for this meeting. Based on my experience with other influential people like yourself, I would estimate the services you might require to be in the neighborhood of $100,000.”
Doug sighed, what was another $100 grand in the big picture? He knew that the term country club prison was no doubt an exaggeration, but if he could do anything to blunt the pain and lessen the consequences of doing time, he was all for it.
“I suppose we should get started,” said Doug reluctantly.
The United States vs. John Madson
The gavel struck the sounding block and the court was adjourned. John Madson was stunned The CPA had just been sentenced to two years in Federal prison for a white-collar crime. He was to report back to the courthouse and then, off to whatever horrors awaited him. John’s imagination made him shudder. His experience with prison was limited to watching shows like Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black.
John left the courthouse with his wife Nancy in silence. They’d drained their retirement funds and put a second mortgage on the house to pay his legal fees. As they walked to the car, John took Nancy’s silence as a condemnation of the stupid risk he’d taken, the meager returns, and the need to make restitution and serve time in prison – not to mention, the overarching embarrassment of having been caught in petty larceny. He wondered if he could make it up to her by coming up with some clever way that he could kill himself in the next five days without looking like a suicide. Then Nancy could collect on his life insurance policy. It was the least he could do.
Justice: Sardaka [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
Alderson Federal Prison Camp
Federal Bureau of Prisons – https://www.bop.gov/locations/institutions/ald/