Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Paul Jones and Conditions at FPC Pensacola

A reader posted a comment to my earlier post and provided a link to the following article describing the conditions for one Paul Jones at FPC Pensacola:

Paul Jones Still Prima Donna in Prison

The account of conditions at Pensacola were pretty much "spot on" except we made 12 cents/hour, not 11!!

It was slightly overcrowded. They had to convert a couple of TV rooms into separate dorm rooms. Obviously, for more detailed (and nuanced) descriptions of the conditions, you'll have to read the various articles in my blog that I posted while I was there.

(By the way, I can only shake my head at the tone of this article and the cold, heartless, ignorant comments that people make about someone they no nothing about. It is just amazing how the media just jumps on a story like this and literally crucifies an individual.)

Ironically, I knew Paul in prison for a couple of months. He reported on May 9, 2007 (5-6 weeks after me) and is due to be released July 5, 2008. He received a 16 month sentence of which he will serve 14 months with standard good-time credit of 15%. The last 1.4 months will be served in a halfway house, which means he should be released from Pensacola FPC in about a month. (I believe his family has moved to Bradenton, Florida from Ohio so he should be relocated there.)

Unfortunately, he was also convicted in state court and, in an unusual move, the judge ruled he must serve his 14 month sentence after he completes his federal sentence. Normally, the state will allow a defendant to serve his state sentence concurrent with an existing federal sentence, especially if the charges arise from the same conduct. Jones had already been sentenced to 16 months on the federal charges when he pleaded guilty in state court. (By the way, it is more common for a federal court to issue a consecutive sentence on top of a state sentence -- otherwise they wouldn't even bother with the case if they think justice has already been done at the state level.)

For a complete summary of his case, read this article.

You can also read details of the charges in the DOJ Press Release announcing his sentence.

In an effort to balance the scales a little to humanize Paul's situation, permit me to fill in a few personal details without, hopefully, compromising his privacy.

Basically, Paul was a career politician. He was mayor of Ravenna, Ohio in the late 70s, then 6 term state legislator before returning as mayor in the late 90s.

As I said, I knew Paul casually for a couple months. As is common among inmates, especially white collar inmates, we discuss our respective cases.

Paul was a perfectly pleasant guy. He is smaller than you might imagine... maybe 5'8" or 5'9".

The first thing you notice is his slightly unusual appearance, which may be typical of all career politicians! His hair looked like it had been sprayed on -- it was always perfect -- and had been tinted a reddish-blond color. Both of these conditions changed over the short time I knew him as his hair began to return to a darker color and didn't always look so "perfect" (although by prison standards he looked just fine!).

The second thing you notice is his tanned face... it almost had an orange tint to it, as if it had been sprayed on also -- something you don't see in prison everyday either, obviously. My guess is that has gone away in the last year.

So, based on appearance alone, Paul sort of stood out initially. Basically, he looked like a movie star.... or maybe a caricature of a movie star.

Having said that, he was a perfectly decent guy. He didn't come across as a prima donna -- as the article called him -- in prison (although I can understand how someone in politics as long as he could create such an impression).

Politians do not make a lot of money (at least not as politicians -- even Bill Clinton didn't make much in Arkansas or, for that matter, as President, which is why so many politicians must be rich, or marry rich, before going into politics). Paul's son had received admission to Harvard, but they could not afford the tuition. He helped his son set up a lawn care business that made enough money to help put his son through college. One of the clients, however, was a non-profit community develoment organization that receives federal funds channeled through the city. Technically, this was an organization that Paul had potential political influence over, which, again technically, creates a conflict of interest.

While the lawn business was a sole proprietorship in his son's name, Paul helped run it while his son was away and also filed the tax returns, which is where he got in trouble.

Apparently, he did not keep very good records, and "neglected" to report approximately $162,000 in revenue over a 3 year period, thereby depriving the IRS of about $50K in taxes. I believe an audit of one of his large clients revealed that they had paid his lawn business a lot of money and further investigation revealed that Paul had not reported it.

Did he do it on purpose? I don't know, but it is obviously a lot of money to not keep track of.

This is where politics enters in. If this had been you or me, the IRS would probably have simply required you to report the additional revenue and pay the missing $50K with additional penalties and interest.

But Paul was a former legislator and mayor. Over 25 years, you create political enemies who are prepared to bury you at the first opportunity. And he certainly gave them that opportunity.

He was charged with tax fraud. A little strong in my opinion but not out of bounds. Fair enough.

But he was also charged with mail fraud.

Mail fraud?

Yes, as a state politician, he is required to file financial disclosure forms. His disclosure forms likewise did not reveal the additional income that he failed to report on his taxes. Normally, this is a state misdemeanor and a small fine.

However, and this illustrates the absolute lunacy of federal law, he dropped the form in the mail rather than hand-delivering. Therefore, by using the mail to commit a crime (filing a false financial disclosure form), even a "crime" as minor as a state misdemeanor, his offense is now a federal felony. Thus, a mail fraud count -- based entirely on mailing an inaccurate state ethics form -- was added to "jack up" his sentence.

(Sometimes, a mail fraud count is added to a tax fraud simply because the tax return was mailed in.)

Furthermore, if he did not accept the plea deal, the feds threatened to indict his son for tax fraud since his sone was technically the owner of the business (threatening to indict family members, no matter how peripherally involved, is a common tactic federal prosecutors use to coerce plea deals). His son had completed law school and would not have been able to sit for the bar while under indictment. Had his son been convicted, good-bye law career.

Therefore, Paul fell on his sword and took the plea deal. (What would YOU do?) That's the way the system works. No matter how much you want to fight the charges and tell your side of the story, the system will not let you unless you are willing to pay an unbelievably huge personal price if you lose. (And, even if you win, you lose because the process will bankrupt you and destroy your life emotionally.)

His plea deal was for 12-18 months. Normally, you get the low end of the scale as a first offender. The judge gave him 16. Nice.

Did Paul probably break the tax laws? Sure.

Did the system exploit his mistake and absolutely bury him to the maximum extent allowed by the law, moreso than what it would have done for a non-public person? I have no doubt that it did.

Did politics play a role? You tell me.

25-30 years of public service of any otherwise good man flushed down the toilet.

That, my friends, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bill, this is a solid legal analysis (far better then any media reporter) or CNN/NBC/CBS Legal analyst, what makes this such a insightful post is that you met the person first hand at FPC. I am fully convinced that the media reporters will do anything to sell papers with bad news. I sometimes wonder how many people in our great nation are either brainwashed by the media or believe everything in the papers/TV?

Anonymous said...

Bill
Your interesting post prompted me to check up inmate locator and Paul Jones is 57 years old, July 5th is his release day. The referenced article also prompted me to check the FPC Pensacola population which stand at 683, not sure what the max capacity? 683 out of 800? or 700?

http://www.bop.gov/locations/weekly_report.jsp

This population report also intrigued me in that I noticed several FPC camps with populations of 110 OTISVILLE-CAMP (example). Would you not agree that you would have done better (quality of life) at a smaller populated camp then FPC Pensacola? I just ran across your site recently on google so I have not fully read the older posts. Pardon me if you were shipped there and had no choice in picking your destination.

Thanks for your site, Jeff Stuben.

Bill Bailey said...

Jeff,

I live near Charlotte, NC but my case was prosecuted out of Philadelphia. I specifically requested Pensacola because it is only one hour from my parents. The Judge made the recommendation in the Judgment and Commitment document (basically the official sentencing order) and BOP honored it, although they are not bound by judge's recommendations.

Initially, they assigned me to Morgantown, WV, which is a common destination for white-collar criminals and also near Philadelphia, but then switched it to Pensacola.

I am surprised a little that Paul did not get assigned to Morgantown since his case was out of Ohio. Maybe he requested Pensacola since his family had moved to Bradenton, FL.

As for the max population at Pensacola FPC, there are 12 guys per room, 20 rooms in each of dorms B and C. There are bunks for 96 guys in each of dorms A and D. That is a total of 672. I know they converted two TV rooms to give them an additional 24 beds for a total of 696. That would pretty much be capacity I would imagine.

Other inmates told me there used to only be 8 beds (rather than 12) in each room but when they closed Eglin FPC a few years back and transferred some of the inmates to Pensacola, the population increased.

Yes some of the other camps have smaller populations but the benefit of Pensacola is that it is one of only 2 camps (along with Maxwell in Montgomery, AL) I believe that are located on a military base where the inmates can actually work off-site. For many guys, simply having some contact with the outside world is a huge psychological and emotional lift.

A prison camp is not a physically difficult or dangerous environment -- in some ways, it is the most stress-free time you will ever spend, after all, you have virtually no responsibility. It is however an emotionally and mentally deprived -- oops, almost said depraved :) -- environment. You have to work to maintain your mind.

Hey, you should start from the beginning and read all my stories! :)

Anonymous said...

Fair explanation, and Yes I have started to read from the first post. All the chapters on this blog could formally be published in a soft bound book, might not be a best seller :) but could provide an income for your efforts. Just a thought.

Once again thanks for your analysis and in depth coverage.
Jeff.

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