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Scammers Deprive Prisoners with Legitimate Substance Abuse Problems of BOP Drug Treatment

by Douglas Ankney

An industry composed of prison consultants charges thousands of dollars to help people prepare for life behind bars. One service they provide is information about the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) offered by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Federal prisoners with nonviolent convictions who complete the 9-to-12-month, 500-hour treatment program can receive up to a year off their sentences and spend their last six months in a halfway house or on home confinement. 

About 15,600 prisoners participated in RDAP in 2018, and thousands more are on waiting lists. To enter the program, prisoners must present evidence of substance abuse or addiction problems during the year prior to their arrest.

In January 2019, three managing partners of RDAP Law Consultants, LLC were indicted on charges of conspiracy and wire fraud, accused of advising their clients to fake an alcohol addiction to get into RDAP. Michigan residents Tony Tuan Pham (a/k/a Anh Nguyen), Samuel Copenhaver and Constance Moerland told clients to show up to prison drunk and fake withdrawal symptoms. They also provided information on how to fraudulently obtain alcohol-withdrawal medication. 

According to the indictment, Pham reportedly told a cooperating witness, “The way you get into this [RDAP] program is, there’s a saying, it goes like this: if you walk like a duck and you quack like a duck, what are they gonna say? ... You’re a duck!” See: United States v. Pham, U.S.D.C. (D. Conn.), Case No. 3:19-cr-00014.

In an unrelated case, an attorney and three other people were charged with defrauding the government and making false statements in an RDAP scam. They allegedly submitted spurious information to BOP officials, claiming that a convicted drug dealer had a history of addiction in an attempt to get him into RDAP. [See: PLN, March 2019, p.58]. Criminal defense lawyer Scott Brettschneider was convicted in April 2019, while his three co-conspirators, Charles Gallman, Reginald Shabazz-Muhammad and federal prisoner Richard Marshall, pleaded guilty. 

“This Office is committed to protecting the integrity of federal programs for drug abuse treatment, to ensure that help is available for those truly in need and not those merely looking for a get-out-of-jail card,” said U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue.

Former Enron treasurer Ben Glisan, Jr. shaved 18 months off his five-year federal prison sentence through good behavior and RDAP. While being questioned by attorney Daniel Petrocelli at a later fraud and conspiracy trial, Glisan joked about participating in the program, saying his “drinking problem” before going to prison consisted of a few glasses of wine in the evening and sometimes a bottle shared with friends.

Petrocelli responded, “You said one or two drinks. If you have a drinking problem, then I’m in serious trouble.”

“You’ll get a year off [your sentence],” Glisan replied, laughing.

RDAP is no joking matter, though. For every prisoner who fakes an addiction to get a sentence reduction there is another with a genuine substance abuse problem who needs the program. 

“It’s an unregulated industry,” said Dan Wise, a former federal prisoner who participated in RDAP and now operates a prison consultant business in Spokane, Washington. “So something like this [the RDAP Law Consultants prosecution] hopefully brings some attention to it.”

Federal prisoners should note that if they have a substance abuse problem that has not been documented, there are legitimate ways to do so in order to participate in RDAP without having to hire shady companies or consultants. See: BOP Program Statement 5330.11, Ch. 2.5.8(3) (“No Verifying Documentation”). 

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Sources: apnews.com, justice.gov, law.com, forbes.com, famm.org