Black Book Magazine | 2009

Published on April 30, 2009 by Alexandra Phanor Faury

Bernie Madoff’s Prison Problem: Jumping the Shank

Bernie Madoff is not gonna have a real easy time in prison. I believe he’s gonna be killed inside,” predicts founder of Wall Street Prison Consultants Larry Levine. “The people at the other end of the secret don’t want to go to jail, so they’re wearing Pampers at night ‘cause Bernie might tell on them. So what do you do to the one person who can finger you? You get rid of him.” This probably isn’t the kind of sobering truth on life behind bars Madoff is getting from his lawyers, and that’s good news for Levine’s company. “They come to me when they want a wake up call, they are in denial, scared, angry, and they have no clue about the system.” To ensure a successful transition from master of the boardroom to just another number, Levine offers white-collar criminals the tools to “make it out alive.” For $999, Levine’s “Fedtime 101” covers topics such as how to prevent prison rape, inmate etiquette and politics, prison slang, dealing with gang members, and ways to get your sentence reduced. Levine honed his prison consulting skills while serving a 10 year sentence for narcotics trafficking, securities fraud, and racketeering in nine different prisons. He was released in 2007 and is now on supervised release.

There’s been talk that both Bernie and Shana Madoff, Bernie’s niece, have reached out to you. Is that true? I don’t really like talking about my clients. I will say that I would not help Bernie. He is like an economic terrorist. He did not just affect one person — he affected many people. He ripped people off and not a company. The only other people I don’t help are child molesters or kiddie porn people. Nobody likes them. I do have a high-profile guy in custody now. Jeremy Jaynes is guilty of internet fraud. He stole like millions of email addresses from AOL. He consulted me last year before he went into custody. He was happy with the advice I gave him before he went in. You’ve served time in over nine prisons. Nellis Federal Prison Camp outside Las Vegas was home to many white collar criminals. Was it the kind of cushy jail we expect these white collar criminals to be locked up in? Club Fed is what we called Nellis. It wasn’t like a regular jail, it was a camp. There were no fences and only a handful of guards. You weren’t locked up in a jail. You had free movement for the most part. I was in the drug rehab dorm there, and at night there were only two cops in this minimum security camp. Sometimes these cops would be drunk. On a Saturday night in the drug dorm, you had inmates smoking weed, shooting heroin, snorting coke, talking on cell phones, and watching porno movies on little DVD players they smuggled in. I thought, fuck, this is the way to do prison. That changed when they moved all of us, about 200 Madoff types, to El Tuna in Texas .

It’s everything you can think of about a prison. There were lots of psychotic guards, gang members, bank robbers, and violent offenders. These white collar criminals were shellshocked, and it meant business for me. What kind of mistakes did you watch these white collar inmates make in a “real” jail? They had complained about how fucked up Club Fed was. I would always tell them to thank their lucky stars they are not in a real prison. They were in a hostile and foreign environment at El Tuna. They had to adjust, and not all of them did. They tried to get away with shit they got away with at the camp. They would try to smuggle things like t-shirts, sleeping pills, cell phones during visitations. White collar inmates need to learn respect ‘cause people have worked their way down in custody. I worked my way from high security to minimum. I would see white collar inmates cut the food line, the telephone line, or change the channel on the TV. They did not know you have to have manners and respect. Like in the dining hall you never reach over somebody’s food tray. That gets you stuck [(i.e. stabbed]. How did you get so confident about your knowledge of the inside workings of prisons? I was curious, nervous, and anxious when I had to go to jail. Scared? I wasn’t scared. I can kind of take care of my shit. I adapted to jail quickly. I had spent a bunch of time in the military in intelligence. I spent time on the street with organized crime, and I was a private investigator. The people in jail were not foreign to me. Prison did not break me in 10 years. Most people, they get out and they are broken, depressed, and angry. I’m like, fuck you, and I turned my experience into a business. I am a natural leader, and most importantly the system did not intimidate me because I knew the law. I had some juice in jail, so I could get people transferred, job changes, or bunk moves.

You filled a class action lawsuit against the Bureau of Prison (BOP) back in 2005 on behalf of the inmates? We got there [El Tuna] and they told us we were stuck. We were outside our custody level, and we were also more than 500 miles away from home of record; which they are not supposed to do. They were initially suppose to fill out what’s called a management variable on everyone before a move. They were in such a hurry, they forgot to do it. I caught them. They said if you don’t like it, sue us. I smiled, and about three weeks later I hit them with a 93-page class action lawsuit, like, here you go, asshole. I did not win it, but the judge dismissed it, and they moved everyone back to the West Coast. I put enough heat on them and got what I wanted. I thought I was Moses leading the inmates back to the promised land of California . How did you create Fedtime 101? I started working on it at Club Fed. I held a focus group where I took the Fedtime 101 syllabus and ran it by a couple of hundred white collar inmates. I would ask them what they thought should be added and what wasn’t important. That’s how it was developed. I wanted to put everything from life inside to legal issues in there. Lawyers don’t give a shit about you once you’re inside. These people have nobody to turn to, and that’s where I step up. People are fascinated by this class ‘cause there is nothing like it. The people behind the show Prison Break are creating a reality show on me and what I do.

What are some things you should never do in jail? You never want to sit on somebody’s bunk, pick up somebody else’s property, stare somebody down, spread lies, and most importantly, you don’t want to be labeled a rat. A lot of white collar inmates think they’re still in the boardroom calling the shots. You must have not had a lot of friends among prison guards and the BOP. They moved me around a lot ‘cause they got mad at me helping inmates file complaints everywhere. You have to know how to communicate with people. When the staff would be trying to get me angry and fired up, I would drive them nuts by just being relaxed. This is what I would tell them: You need to relax because your anger is misplaced. Let’s identify the issue, and I’m gonna give you a couple of moments to compose yourself. I wasn’t angry or frustrated with them. It was like talking to a child. I would ask them if they were done with their temper tantrum. They had no clue how to handle that. Your services are very timely with the slew of white collar crooks getting caught these days. What advice would you give those who aren’t smart enough to enlist your help? Darin DeMizio [a Morgan Stanley executive convicted of securities fraud conspiracy] … If he has 30 people testifying against him who all have decided to provide information to the FBI, there’s enough on him that they are gonna hang him in trial. What I would suggest to him is to cut a deal, because if he goes to trial and loses, they can get him for obstruction. He would probably get 50 percent more time than if he pleads guilty. Samuel Israel [fraudulent hedge fund manager who attempted to fake suicide in order to escape authorities] … I would tell him to use some of his dirty money and hire me! He is gonna need to.