Have you ever been arrested for something you didn’t do?

Mudassir Ali
Feb 14, 2020 04:53 AM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Feb 14, 2020 04:53 AM

Originally Answered: Have you ever been charged with a crime you really did not commit?

It was about 20 years ago. I was married and my children were in grammar school. I had a very small legal practice that I operated out of my home. I had a client that I provided general legal services. She did bookkeeping, payroll, and HR services for various companies. Mostly I wrote service agreements for her, which are basically just general agreements that outlined what services she would provide her clients, how she would get paid, etc. I did on occasion give her advice on employment and human resources issues (e.g., can we ask on job applications what year someone graduated high school?). One of her clients was a larger organization located on the East Coast. They provided management services for hotel chains. This company’s owner engaged in tax fraud and money laundering. I don’t know the details. I read the indictments. The allegations were very general. I’m not exactly sure what they did, but I think they hired workers as independent contractors, but then presented them to the IRS as employees, or vice-versa. Basically, they paid the employees less than what they represented to the IRS. Then the owner sent cash from the business to an off-shore account. Again, I only had access to the indictments, and they were not very specific. So I never really understood what they did.

The federal government indicted the owner, his wife who was the company CFO and did their accounting, their lawyer, and several employees. The second wave of indictments included my client and her two assistants. I was in the third wave. I didn’t know I had been indicted until one April morning. My older girl was in second grade. The younger one was still in diapers. The nanny arrived as usual as I was making my older daughter’s lunch — peanut butter on bread (no jelly). We had gotten into the habit of being late, but this morning, we were on time.

We got in the car and as I was pulling out of the driveway, about 15 FBI agents ascended on us. One came up to my car and rapped on the windshield. I rolled down the window. He said my name and told me I was under arrest. He told me to get out of the car, which I did. Agents came around and got my daughter out of the car. The FBI agent threw his arms up and yelled at another agent. He said to me, “I apologize for doing this with your daughter here. We had been following you for the last few days and I thought we knew your schedule. I thought you would have already dropped your kid off by now.” I’m not exactly sure if I believe him considering I usually brought my daughter to school about ten minutes later. A local police officer was called. He took my daughter to school. She thought that was exciting. The FBI agent said to her, “wow, you’re gonna get to ride in a squad car to school!”

We went inside. My nanny was nearly hysterical. I told her not to worry and that everything will be okay. They went into my office and asked me where I kept my files. I showed them. They let me take a shower before they took me downtown. I was interviewed. I told them I declined to answer any questions until I had an attorney. I went before a judge and got bonded out on my own recognizance. I called my husband who came and picked me up. We got home before school let out. Later that evening, I put the kids to bed while my husband (also a lawyer) printed out the indictment from PACER. We each had a glass of bourbon. Then he read the indictment. I told him to just give me the summary. I was charged with several counts of tax fraud, bank fraud, money laundering, mail fraud, conspiracy, and I don’t even remember the rest. Without going into too much detail, it alleged that I advised my client how to “cook the books.”

About a year later, I stood before a federal judge and entered a plea of guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud against the U.S. government (18 U.S.C. 371). I made the decision to plead guilty because my attorney told me to. He had worked out a deal getting all charges dropped except for one count of conspiracy. He said if I go to trial, I might lose. All the previously indicted individuals had already pleaded guilty and were sentenced. My former client had already agreed to testify against me as part of her plea deal. So did her assistants. If I lost I could go to prison for a long time. I was looking at a maximum of 25 years, though realistically I would probably only get about 10 years. Whereas if I pleaded guilty, I would get at most 2–3 years. My husband and I had gone through our savings and a second mortgage. My husband and my mom both believed I should go to trial. I could have gotten an attorney from the federal defenders. My father (also an attorney) didn’t think I should risk it. Considering everything, I didn’t think I would win at trial. I didn’t trust the AUSA. He seemed shady to me. Also, statistically speaking, the odds were against me. That’s why 95% of people charged end up pleading. I got 8 months. I went to prison. I got out. I was suspended from practicing law for three years.

After prison my life went back to normal. I got a job at a local coffee shop, which I really liked. In prison, I started doing art again. I had been an art major in college, but had stopped doing it after going to law school. Eventually I got into human resources and still work in that field. I like it better than being a lawyer. So I never went through the process to get reinstated.

I am extremely bitter at the federal government. It turned out that I was right about the prosecutor being shady. I have no doubt that he was well aware that he prosecuted an innocent person. He had access to all 300 some-odd emails that went between me and my client. There were recorded conversations between my client and the main guy. There was never any evidence that I had in any way advised my client how to break the law. The AUSA argued during the sentencing of the main defendant how this guy was a criminal mastermind and came up with this scheme (he got seven years). He argued during the sentencing of his wife-accountant that she was a brilliant accountant who came up with this scheme (she got five years). He argued during the sentencing of their attorney that she was a brilliant attorney who came up with this scheme and that the other two could not have done what they did without her help (she got maybe three years). He argued the same during the sentencing of my client (she got 18 months) — that she was brilliant and came up with this scheme. Then during my sentencing, he argued that my client was inept and could not have done this without my assistance and that it was actually I who was the architect of the scheme. So he lied to the judge again and again. And the judge pretended not to ever notice the factual contradictions.

I don’t believe for a second that my client or her assistants were guilty of anything. When they pleaded guilty I was shocked. But then I realized they had made the same calculation I did. They all agreed to testify against me in order to get a reduced sentence. I was angry with my client for a long time. I had known her for years and I considered her a friend. I couldn’t imagine how she could do this to me. But eventually I came to understand. We never spoke again.

Now consider this: I am white. I am educated. I had means — about $100,000 available to pay for my legal defense. And I got shafted. In prison, I met people who did not have those advantages and got a much worse deal. I stopped feeling sorry for myself very quickly. It was replaced with anger at the injustice and serious overt racism that exists in our system. I’m still angry. Statistics show that about 20% of people in prison are not guilty of the crime that got them there. That number seems low to me.

As an HR manager, I am grateful to the many employers I have had who was willing to give an ex-con a second chance. And I have encouraged my employers to hire other ex-cons. I have also gotten employers to remove questions from applications regarding an applicant’s conviction history. (Note: I prefer the term, “ex-con” over “ex-offender” because even though I was convicted, I never actually committed an offense.)

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