Covering politics, you can see a lot of ugly stories.
So it’s really wonderful when you see a story that’s about pure joy and gratitude.
President Donald Trump championed and passed criminal justice reform, the First Step Act, with bipartisan support last year.
That’s resulted in people who had sentences judged as unfair or too long being released.
Many people are familiar with the case of Alice Johnson, who Trump featured in an ad during the Super Bowl touting criminal justice reform. While Johnson was not released under the First Step Act herself, but by Trump’s direct action, her case highlighted the nature of many released under the new law.
Clinton Stewart, his family and friends are giving credit to the First Step Act for his release in January.
A video put out by friends and family of Stewart was just released and is just starting to go viral in the wake of the pardons and clemency actions yesterday by President Donald Trump. It shows them greeting him on the road after his release, waving Trump/First Step Act signs. Stewart’s daughter, Tiffany, introduces the video and thanks Trump for his release.
Stewart thanked all his friends and family who met him after his release. “Thank God for President Trump and the First Step Act,” Stewart said. “President Obama had an opportunity to help us out, he refused.”
Stewart, along with David A. Banks, Kendrick Barnes, Demetrius K. Harper,Gary L. Walker, and David A. Zirpolo ran an IT company that was trying to develop software to help law enforcement.
But they apparently had difficulty locking down a contract with the DHS although they had been in conversations with them and this left the company in huge debt to their creditors, employment agencies who provided them software developers and payroll services. The agencies paid the workers and IRP was supposed to pay them back.
The FBI raided them in 2004 but then sent a letter saying they wouldn’t be pursued criminally because debt was a civil matter. Despite that, the DOJ still tried to indict them in 2007, but were unsuccessful in their first effort when the grand jury declined to indict.
But because of the FBI/DOJ involvement, that made law enforcement reluctant to deal with the company which made things worse.
The DOJ tried to indict them again in 2009. This time, they were successful. Each of six men were ultimately convicted and given from 7 to 11 year sentences for charges including mail and wire fraud. Stewart was given a ten year sentence according to a press release on the case.
Definitely an unusual sentence for a white collar first offense. All their appeals failed to get it overturned by 2014.
Retired federal judge H. Lee Sarokin, formerly a judge with the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, took up the cause of the men and said they were innocent, that the whole theory of the case, that the men set up the company as a scam, went against all the evidence.
From Washington Post:
Sarokin noted that attempting to scam law enforcement agencies, as their sole customer, seems an unlikely target. The men all left their jobs to create the software, hired former FBI and immigration agents as consultants on the software, and made no profit from the scheme — each was paid about $50,000 per year for their work, Stewart said. “DHS doesn’t repeatedly call you if you’re running a scam,” Stewart said. He said he felt a corporate competitor interested in creating similar software pushed the feds to prosecute.
Sarokin, 91, so believed in the case, he even wrote a play about it, to highlight the injustice, and is still hoping to get justice for the men.
According to Olivia Hodges, a friend of Stewart’s for 35 years, who I spoke to for this article, all the men had no criminal histories, they are “all God-fearing men that worked hard to take care of their families.” “We all grew up in church together,” she said. They all went to the same church for over 30 years, she said.
Stewart asked in the video to also remember the three men still being held.
According to Hodges, David Banks, David Zirpolo and Demetrius Harper are the three still being held. The group, A Just Cause, has been working to try to get attention to the case to help the men and works to draw attention to similar cases.