Ex-Con Helps Convicted Execs Navigate Prison Life

April 29, 2009 06:40 AM
by Anne Szustek
Former private eye and paroled ex-con Larry Levine has made a business out of explaining the nuances of prison society to potential white-collar inmates.

A New Kind of White-Collar Consulting Gig

As The Economist points out, the recent collapse of many unscrupulous business schemes means that many formerly upstanding citizens are now facing prison time for their wily financial pursuits. Most executives are used to calling upon consultants to help them cope with problems outside their expertise, and this situation is no different. 

Meet Larry Levine, “jailhouse litigator.” For the starting price of $999 per consultation, the founder of Wall Street Prison Consultants offers detailed, helpful tips for the white-collar criminal about to enter prison. Levine breaks down the various aspects of prison culture, including how to make friends, which phone to use, where to find entertainment, how to finesse a shorter sentence and prison lingo. It’s sort of like training for an overseas business post; the advice even includes recipes that make use of ingredients on hand.

“Levine offers recipes for casserole, and pizza made from a crushed-Saltine-cracker crust and topped with cheese and sauce swiped from the cafeteria,” New York magazine’s Daily Intelligencer blog reports. “And, he notes, the commissaries sell sausage; combine sausage with the aforementioned stolen cheese, and a microwave burrito is just minutes in the making.”

Levine’s expertise in navigating prison society was honed in 11 federal prisons; he served time for charges related to obstruction of justice, securities fraud and narcotics. He is still on supervised parole, so he cannot have face-to-face interaction with other convicted felons. His consultancy is thus done by phone. 

However, Levine refuses to dispense counsel to that most notorious of white-collar criminals, Bernie Madoff. “His people already called me and I wouldn’t take him.”

Related Topic: How will Bernie Madoff rank in prison society?

Prisons have an intricate social hierarchy based largely on inmates’ convicted crimes, rather than on intelligence or brawn, according to long-term British inmate Jim Smith, who wrote a first-person article for The Independent in 1995. He said sex offenders, especially pedophiles, are at the lowest rungs of prison society. Further up the “pecking order” are rapists, followed by those who attacked senior citizens. Skilled armed robbers are at the top; the middle classes are inhabited by “fraudsters and thieves … [and] those who have committed grievous bodily harm (violence rates highly),” Smith wrote. “Murderers are relatively exempt from the pecking order unless they also happen to be sex offenders or armed robbers, in which case they will be at the bottom or the top respectively.”

In mid-March, Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 charges in connection with a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme conducted at his investment firm, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities. He was sent directly to jail to await sentencing. The charges include securities fraud, perjury, mail and wire fraud, theft from an employee retirement plan and money laundering.

Opinions differ as to where Madoff will fall in the prison hierarchy. Cleveland-area journalist and ex-con Mansfield Frazier predicts in The Daily Beast that Madoff will be among the penitentiary elite, just beneath the armed robbers. “Why? Because he screwed the type of people whom his future prisonmates feel they’ve been screwed by all their lives,” Frazier writes. “He’ll be regarded as a felonious Robin Hood.”

Levine isn’t so sure. He told The Economist, “You rob a bank, that’s cool … Someone defrauded an insurance company, and he’s cool. The worst thing you can be in prison is a thief who steals from people, and Bernie stole from people.”

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