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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Go directly to jail.

On Monday, Sam Israel was supposed to directly surrender to federal prison in Ayer, Massachusetts, to begin a 20-year sentence for securities fraud in connection with his tenure as the manager of the Bayou Group hedge fund. Instead, today he is missing. His GMC Envoy was found abandoned near the Bear Mountain Bridge, which spans a remote and wild portion of the Hudson River. Someone scratched the message “Suicide Is Painless,” the theme song from the TV show M*A*S*H, into the layer of dust on the SUV. While the bridge is quite isolated and imposing, a law-enforcement source stated, “We’re not searching the river because it is widely presumed he didn’t jump.” Ross Intelisano, a lawyer for victims of Israel’s investment fraud, said, “Unless they find a body, I think he’s on the lam.”

Back in April, I wrote about our country’s “rogue state” status, in which draconian sentences are imposed even in nonviolent cases. I cited Israel’s 20-year sentence as an extreme example of punishment run amok. Despite the fact that Israel cooperated with government prosecutors and then pled guilty, he received an extraordinarily tough sentence from Judge Colleen McMahon. While the Department of Justice claims that the suicide rate for inmates now is much lower than it was 20 years ago, I can tell you from experience that people who face even a small amount of time behind bars often become unbearably anxious. If the authorities do discover Sam Israel’s body, those who are calling the disappearance his “greatest con” should be truly ashamed. On the other hand, if the Feds find him on a beach in Tahiti drinking a Mai Tai, it's going to be harder for all of us defense attorneys to get judges to allow our clients to surrender directly to prison instead of being thrown in the can at sentence.

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