|American Prison Consultants
|Call For A Free
Los Angeles 213.416-7500
New York 646-395-7500
|Post Office Box 215
Moorpark, CA 93020
|"Experienced Prison Consulting You Can Trust Since 2005!"
|Federal Prison Consultants & RDAP Sentence Reduction Experts
|About to do time? Meet your best pal
|By Mike Anton
|Page 1, February 27, 2009
|Copyright 2009 Los Angeles Times
|Larry Levine is hard at work in a sketchy apartment complex in
Canoga Park, a noisy and joyless place with an enclosed courtyard
that resembles a prison cellblock.
Upstairs in the back, behind a blanket blocking the light of day,
Levine paces his cramped one-bedroom. Stacks of law books
purchased on EBay crowd the floor. Levine is wearing a Hawaiian
shirt stretched across his belly and an L.A. County Sheriff's cap.
From his cellphone spills the complicated complaint of a potential
client, a man injured in federal prison who believes he was entitled
to physical therapy upon release.
"You know I'm not a lawyer, right?" Levine says. He then dispenses
some free legal advice: "Have you filed a tort claim? You need to
find out who is negligent."
At a time when no job is safe, Levine is among a small but growing
number of consultants who are poised to find work in the economic
meltdown as prison life coaches to the perpetrators of Ponzi
schemes, mortgage scams and financial swindles.
White-collar criminals have long employed coaches to prep them
on what to expect when they trade in their designer clothes for
institutional khaki. Past students include Martha Stewart
(securities fraud), Leona Helmsley (tax evasion) and financier Ivan
Boesky (insider trading).
Now a new crop of consultants is using the Web to democratize
this rarefied service, reaching out to small-time hustlers who saw
the opportunity of a lifetime and seized it, regardless of the
Among these self-styled gurus are former prison staffers,
disbarred lawyers and self-trained former jailhouse lawyers
who've hung their shingles on the outside.
"We like to use the phrase 'jailhouse litigator,' " says Levine, 47.
"Jailhouse lawyer sounds cheap.
For fees ranging from a few hundred dollars to many thousands,
consultants will explain the maze of regulations that govern every
minute behind bars. They'll show clients how to file a grievance,
obtain a desirable prison job or get transferred to a nicer lockup.
They'll tell clients what to say when being evaluated for a
substance abuse rehab program that can shave up to a year off a
Most important, they give newbies a crash course on prison lingo,
culture and behavior -- the do's and don'ts of a violent place where
the wrong move could be their last.
"It's like going to a foreign country and having to learn a new
language," says Tom Miller, 54, who did time in a California prison
in the 1990s for dealing methamphetamine and now works as a
counselor for a San Diego business called Dr. Prison.
"When I went in, my first cellie was a white supremacist shot-caller
named Pinky," Miller says. "He was absolutely huge. He had Nazi
signs on his toes. He started talking about some of his crimes and
one of them was the rape of another inmate. . . . I was absolutely
Miller says the insight he gleaned from Pinky and other encounters
gives him the authority to speak about surviving prison unscathed,
as he did.
Lesson No. 1: Stay with your own race. Don't use the phone of a
person of another race. Don't play cards with people of another
Other lessons: Don't join a gang. Don't divulge too much information
about yourself and don't lie -- it's a sign of disrespect. Don't snitch.
Don't become overly chummy with anyone because no one is your
friend. Learn how to anticipate riots and avoid being raped; owing
anyone money or a favor makes one vulnerable.
"We deal with anybody who has fears," Miller says. "We also try to
prepare people for the family situations they'll encounter. You want
to be mindful of your finances. Most spouses won't be there when
you get out. People always say, 'Oh no, she's going to stick with
me.' We tell them, 'No, she won't. So you want to protect your
Levine, a gourmand when it comes to serving up expletives,
counsels circumspection and extreme politeness.
"Show ultimate respect. Be courteous. People are under a lot of
stress in prison," he says. "Don't argue. Don't confront. . . . I knew
people were lying to me all the time. . . . 'Hey, you want to be Elvis?
Bigfoot? Thank you, Mr. President!' I didn't care what or who they
wanted to be. I was just doing my own time."
Levine, who deals exclusively with federal cases, calls his program
Fedtime 101. Its curriculum is based on what he learned during 10
years in federal prisons for drug dealing and securities fraud.
|Ex-con Larry Levine calls himself a jailhouse litigator. "Jailhouse lawyer sounds cheap"
|"Why trust your future with amateurs? says Levine, who founded
Supervisory release. "You get a lot of well-meaning people doing
they need to know.
Levine is built like a farm silo with a thick salt-and-pepper goatee
and a cue ball head that give him the bearing of a biker in search
of a stomping.
In fact, Levine is the child of upper-middle-class San Fernando
Valley parents, a divorced grandfather and Air Force veteran who
worked as a cable TV installer and ran a burglar alarm company
before becoming an unlicensed private investigator.
"That's when I got into trouble," he says.
As are all such stories, Levine's is a long one, a recipe of poor
choices involving organized crime, counterfeit money and
travelers checks, methamphetamine, a friend-turned-snitch who
set him up and transactions in parking lots with undercover
"This guy," he says of the informant who rolled over on him, "built
me up as some kind of master criminal" and claimed Levine had
someone killed in Mexico and arranged for the body to be
brought to the United States.
"That's ridiculous," he says of the allegation, which went
nowhere. "You kill somebody in Mexico, who's going to bring the
Behind bars, Levine's fertile mind led him to the law library,
where he learned to file grievances through the Bureau of
Prisons' Administrative Remedy Program, a bureaucratic
process he found to be as insufferable as solitary confinement.
He helped fashion a lawsuit brought by dozens of
minimum-security inmates and other violent offenders.
As word got around, inmates increasingly hit Levine up for
advice. Some paid him in commodities from the prison canteen.
Now, he accepts only cash. Levine says he advised 40 paying
clients last year, made more than $100,000 and has enough work
to outsource the review of court documents to a couple of former
jailhouse lawyers living in the Philippines. He rarely meets a
client face-to-face; the mere hint of socializing with a felon might
put him back in prison.
He can't help a fair amount of people who contact him. Some,
including the injured former inmate who's seeking physical
therapy, need real -- not jailhouse -- lawyers. Others, including a
woman whose boyfriend was put away for blasting an ATM from
a wall, are simply delusional.
"This lady had it in her mind that this dude was set up. They had it
on camera!" Levine says incredulously. "I get people who are
going away for child pornography. I don't want to deal with them.
What I tell them is: 'Pray. You're going to get beat up every day
you're in there.' "
Clients he takes on get a guarantee unique in American
"If they ask, how do I know I can trust you, I tell them: 'You don't,'
" he says. "I can steal your money. But all you have to do is tell
my probation officer. Think I'm going back to prison for a couple
thousand dollars? That's your insurance policy."
That was good enough for Chris Upchurch, a 33-year-old Idaho
home builder indicted last year in a mortgage fraud and kickback
scheme that used straw borrowers with falsified income and
credit histories to obtain $20 million in bogus construction loans.
"Crud, a guy like that -- he's got experience," Upchurch says.
Months before he was arrested, Upchurch felt the FBI closing in.
He Googled "prison time" and "help" and up popped Levine's
website, www.americanprisonconsultants. It includes his
resume -- a list of the prisons he served time in -- and
testimonials from inmate-clients.
Levine tells it like it is. . . . A virtual encyclopedia of BOP policy
and procedure. . . . Two thumbs up for Levine!
Upchurch, charged with 20 counts of bank fraud, faced 30 years
in prison. One of the four lawyers he's gone through advised him
to plead not guilty and have a jury decide his fate.
Levine's advice: "Don't be stupid. They're going to get you." More
than 90% of federal defendants plead guilty; the vast majority who
go to trial are convicted; four of five convicted defendants serve
jail time. It's better to make a deal.
Eventually, Upchurch pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud.
He's hoping to get no more than 3 1/2 years when he is
sentenced next month.
Upchurch believes he got his money's worth from the $1,500
Levine charged. Levine told him about the substance abuse
program. ("I drink a lot more now. It's been a tough year,"
Upchurch says.) And he listened to Upchurch's concerns about
his three young children and his wife, who is expecting another.
"She's a big-time Christian girl and doesn't like what happened,"
Upchurch took comfort in Levine's advice. The soon-to-be con
looked to the ex-con as a Padawan would a Jedi Master.
"If you're getting divorced, you call a friend who's been divorced,"
Such nurturing takes time -- and trust. On Levine's end, that
means a signed service agreement and payment upfront.
"They're criminals. I don't trust these people," he says.
On a speaker phone now, Levine is talking to a woman whose
daughter is serving 10 years for a drug conviction. He explains
that for $1,000 he will review the case looking for grounds to file
a 2255 habeas corpus motion, a common sentence-reduction
tool used by inmates.
The woman asks a lot of questions. She wonders aloud whether
her phone is being tapped.
"Let me do my job!" Levine shouts. "Don't second-guess what I'm
A few hours later $1,000 hits Levine's bank account and a
peculiar wheel of justice begins to turn.
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