Martha Stewart preps for prison, consultant in tow
Martha Stewart has never been one to skimp on the extras. And her sentencing, scheduled for Friday, will be no different. Along with her friends, family, and legal advisers will be an extra layer of protection - in the form of a sentencing consultant, hired to help the doyenne of taste navigate the hazards and complexities of her punishment.
"We'll want to make sure all goes as well as it can go," says her adviser, Herb Hoelter, who will have a seat in the federal court in New York. "Or, I'll be there if anything goes sour."
Ms. Stewart's hire is not an anomaly these days. As white-collar criminals increasingly face jail terms, a group of consultants is helping them transition from life in the fast lane to life behind bars.
Some advisers focus solely on the sentencing process, often convincing judges to hand down shorter and lighter penalties. Others are more all-encompassing: part legal adviser, part psychiatrist, and part friend, as they help defendants and their families prepare for the shock, humiliation, and isolation that often accompany a prison sentence.
Those familiar with the business say the industry is in great demand from white collar criminals, ranging from child pornographers to CEOs accused of stealing corporate funds.
"People with money retain them," says Malcolm Young, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit group. He likens the trend to those able to pay for the best medical care. "They think it's effective."
Studies have shown that such advisers have had an impact in reducing sentences and finding alternatives to incarceration.
In Stewart's case, Hoelter has been involved with her proposal to do community service at the Women's Venture Fund, which teaches urban women entrepreneurial skills.
"From a community service standpoint, there is not a better fit," says Hoelter, a cofounder and CEO of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives in Baltimore. "The judge could give a shorter period of time and community service or she could order community service instead of part of the time in jail."
But legal experts think it's likely Stewart will get at least some time in a federal jail. According to Kirby Behre, author of a book on federal sentencing guidelines, the range for Stewart is 10 to 16 months. The judge may give half of that in home confinement or at a halfway house. "At the end of the day, there is very little wriggle room to avoid at least five months in jail," says Mr. Behre, a partner at the Washington law firm Paul Hastings.
If Stewart does get jail time, Hoelter will be instrumental in trying to convince the court to send her to a minimum security facility close to where she resides in Connecticut. At a federal "camp," Stewart would live in a dorm, would walk to a dining hall, and could get a job working outdoors.
"A white-collar criminal with no prior arrests, convicted of a nonviolent crime, scores out to a minimum facility," he says.
But it's not a given that a white-collar criminal will go to a federal prison camp. Lea Fastow, convicted of Enron-related crimes with her husband, former Enron finance chief Andrew Fastow, entered a maximum security facility this week because there was no room in a camp. "She will spend most of her time locked down; it will be terrible," says Hoelter.
David Novak of David Novak Consulting in Salt Lake City helps white-collar criminals prepare for this type of shock.
A former prisoner turned sentencing consultant, he says many white-collar criminals are surprised to see so many drug dealers. "They are under the misconception that they are going to a country club ... that they'll serve their time with lawyers and doctors," he says. Part of his job is to dispel those myths. "The biggest shock is that there is no such thing as a white-collar prison."
Many of his clients, accustomed to leading thousands of employees and setting their own rules, often are surprised by the "absolute loss of control," he says, such as the autonomy to choose what to do or what to wear.
"I try to get them in a position where they recognize the more they do to help fellow inmates" - by tutoring them in the English language or with GED exams - "the better or more worthwhile they'll feel," says Novak. "It's very easy for your mind and your heart and spirit to atrophy."
Not all white-collar criminals turn to consultants. Dunlap Cannon, a former lawyer in Tennessee who committed real estate fraud, says he did his own research on life in prison before serving time - about 33 months. He also sought advice from those who had also spent time behind bars. "But nothing really prepares you for that first day when you walk down with the guard [who] says, 'When you were a lawyer, you were a stupid lawyer,''' says Mr. Cannon. "For the first time you go in your jail cell and they close the door, the first time they put handcuffs on you. All those things are humbling."
Cannon now gives speeches on fraud prevention for a lecture service in Columbus, Ohio, called The Pros and The Cons. The group gives 150 to 250 speeches a year, says founder Gary Zeune. His first requirement when he hires ex-convicts? "Are you willing to admit what you did, and take responsibility for it?" he asks. If the answer is no, the ex-convict isn't hired.
That, in fact, is some of the most important advice that Novak, a former Microsoft consultant, says he can give. "A federal prosecution is incredibly adversarial. You can come out of it feeling victimized, saying 'They were mean to me, or they didn't have to go that far,'" says Novak. But he emphasizes to them: "Your choices and the consequences for those choices are truly what put you in this position."
Novak also tells clients to go without notions of superiority. "It's very easy to delude yourself that you are superior to your fellow inmates," says Novak. "Federal prison is truly the great equalizer."
He learned that lesson first hand. At first, he identified more with the staff than with inmates. But he says he was lucky. "Within several days my bunkee ... kinda pulled me to the side," he says. He told Novak to watch himself. "That's all it took for me."