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Five Sentenced in Oregon Prison Food Bribery Scandal
As previously reported in PLN, shortly after a January 10, 2007 raid by IRS and FBI agents, California food brokers Michael Levin, William Lawrence and Howard Roth, as well as Maryland food broker Douglas Levene, pleaded guilty to one count of bribery and one count of tax fraud in exchange for cooperating with the prosecution of former Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) food services administrator Farhad “Fred” Monem. [See: PLN, Aug. 2008, p.1].
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kent Robinson said the food brokers’ cooperation was a “key element” of their plea agreements. Although each defendant faced a maximum of 13 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Cardani said the government would recommend the low end of the sentencing range so long as they fulfilled their obligations.
With his co-conspirators turning against him, Fred Monem tried to cut a deal of his own. However, when Monem and his wife – who was also involved in the bribery scheme – met with federal prosecutors on June 28, 2007, they learned that Monem’s deal would include a stiff prison sentence.
Apparently unhappy about the prospect of eating prison food for an extended period of time, three days later Monem fled for his homeland of Iran, which does not have an extradition treaty with the United States. He left behind a teenage son suffering from serious psychiatric problems linked to the onset of schizophrenia, and his wife, Karen.
On November 19, 2008, Karen Monem pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering.
At that time Cardani informed the district court, “it is the understanding of the FBI that Fred Monem has been herding sheep in Iran. We are confident he is there. He refuses to return voluntarily to face the charges.” [See: PLN, July 2009, p.20].
U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken sentenced Karen to one year in prison in February 2009. On September 8, 2009, she sentenced Levin, Lawrence and Roth to 3 months in prison, nine months on home detention and 1,000 hours of community service. Since their April 2007 plea agreements, the men have collectively paid approximately $1.5 million to settle tax and civil claims. They also participated in a Los Angeles anti-crime program that involved preparing, serving and donating thousands of meals.
ODOC Director and former state senator Max Williams attended the sentencing hearing for the trio of food brokers. “It is my hope that the sentence handed down today will stand as a warning to the serious consequences of bribing a public official,” he said. Yet three months in prison for bribes that resulted in $21 million in food sales to ODOC over a four-year period somehow doesn’t seem like a “serious consequence.” The lack of oversight by Williams which allowed the corruption to flourish is also not encouraging.
On October 27, 2009, Aiken sentenced Levene to 3 months in prison and nine months on home detention. The prosecutor had requested a 2½-year prison term, presumably because rather than paying the State of Oregon a $1.8 million judgment, Levene opted to file for bankruptcy. He had paid Monem tens of thousands of dollars in cash bribes, sometimes when they met in Las Vegas to go gambling. ODOC officials were aware of Monem’s trips to Vegas but thought he was doing consulting work.
Once confident that there would be “consequences for Mr. Monem for his conduct,” more than three years later federal prosecutors don’t sound as certain. “I’m not aware of whether he is still tending sheep in Iran,” said Cardani. Judge Aiken suggested that Monem’s self-imposed exile from the U.S. might be an appropriate punishment in itself – although bilked Oregon taxpayers may disagree. Prisoners who had to eat the poor-quality food that Monem accepted bribes to purchase might disagree, too.
Source: The Oregonian
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