June 23, 2014
It pleases me to share this guest blog written by my friend, Richard Bistrong.
My Journey and Sentencing, by Richard Bistrong
First, I want to thank Justin for allowing me to address his community via this guest blog and I am extremely grateful for the reception that I have received with respect to my writings concerning international compliance challenges from the front line of international business (www.richardbistrong.blogspot.com). However, my path to getting to where I can now take such opportunities to share with others, was filled with many ups and downs, and I hope that even those struggles, too, might benefit others. While I remain grateful that the most challenging parts of this experience for myself and my family, including the loss of liberty, remain in the rear view mirror, I always manage to keep an eye on that mirror, as not to forget the path, and ultimately, the humility, which brought me to the place where today I can share my experience with others.
During the many years when I was working in the field of international sales, I was aware that I was engaging in illegal behavior; however, at that time in my life, I wasn’t thinking about getting caught and did not think I would get caught. I was well educated, well paid, and in a very respected position with respect to both compensation and recognition, in my career. So why break the law? Well, as I have shared, and here I again point out, I discuss my conduct not in terms of justification, but in the context of how I “rationalized bribery.” In my case, it was a perfect storm, where a number of factors which impacted my thinking, came together and prevailed, and which I talk about extensively in my presentations and writings.
Getting Caught, Twice
When I did get caught in early 2007 (by my former employer), it was a frightening moment, to say the least. I was alone facing a panel of attorneys and seasoned investigators. Of course, the first consequence that comes to mind in a situation like that is the loss of my job. It didn’t take long to calculate that I would be terminated in the near future, so I started thinking about the financial consequences to my family.
The second “getting caught” point for me was by far more significant. It was at this point that I truly hit bottom and started on my trajectory of rehabilitation, which continues to this day. It started in the Spring of 2007 with a call from the Justice Department to my attorney, Brady Toensing. They said they knew about the investigation by my then, former employer, and they offered to let us come in and Proffer.It is really difficult to articulate the intensity of the Proffer experience. But I realized that, as described by DOJ Attorney Joey Lipton (at my sentencing), this was my “line in the sand.” No matter what happened up until that first Proffer meeting, this was a chance to truly come clean with my misdeeds. For me, the process of cooperating with the government, which started with this first meeting, also allowed me to re-think how I had been living, and to start the healing process with my family and friends.
My proffer initiated a period cooperation with US and UK law enforcement which lasted five years, including almost three years of covert cooperation (one of the longest periods of covert cooperation in Federal Law Enforcement) and two years of preparation for trial testimony and actual testimony, including three calendar weeks of cross-examination. While there has been a great deal of reporting about my cooperation, and the outcome of the cases where I was a cooperator, as I reflect on this period of my life, I am happy to have it in the rear view mirror and to be back with my loved ones and my community. As I will share, it was ultimately Judge Richard Leon (District Judge, DC) who would weigh the value of my cooperation, and he would have sole authority to judge the significance my cooperation against the magnitude of my illegal conduct, which I candidly admitted to in extensive court testimony.
Judge Leon understood the seriousness of my illegal conduct, the value of my cooperation, as well as my personal and professional efforts to contribute to society since the ending of my covert cooperation. When he weighed all of that (including the Justice Department’s 5K1.1 departure recommendation of home confinement), which I think of as the “good, bad and ugly,” he decided that a sentence was still warranted and I remain at peace with his decision. It was at this point, with the pronunciation of an eighteen-month sentence, that Justin Paperny came into my life.
Getting Sentenced: Deer in a Headlight Syndrome
A prison sentence is scary, to an individual, and to a family, for the known and the unknown. I had already retained a “prison consultant,” to assist with pre-sentencing issues, and I continued to use his services, but as I quickly found out, there are prison consultants out there who understand the fear that one is confronted with prior to incarceration, and who take advantage of such anxiety through all kinds of commitments and promises that can not possibly be kept. Unfortunately, by the time you realize it, you are already “locked up,” with no recourse, and most often, with scarce resources. Beware. So, after getting contradictory and conflicting messages from my own “prison consultant,” I stared researching, reading and writing. It was during this process that I intersected with a number of people: Michael Santos, whose blog I started reading prior to sentencing, Justin Paperny, who via social media, I saw was connected to Michael.
These three individuals (Michael was released prior to my own self-surrendering to the Federal Prison Camp at Lewisburg) provided what I would call unselfish, honest and open counsel. They shared with me words of wisdom, not only as to what I might expect, how to prepare, but most importantly, how to strategize mentally for a “plan of action” before walking through the door of the Camp. Thus, with their assistance, I knew what I was going to bring with me when surrendering, even to the point of researching which watch brand was sold at Commissary (it is more likely that you can keep your watch if it is the same brand that the Commissary sells), to what job I was going to seek. In fact, I surrendered on a Friday, and on Monday I had my job as a GED tutor, where I would eventually end up as an English as a Second Language Instructor (ESL). Even my Educational Supervisor said on my last day “you made an impact here and your students will miss you.”
Making a positive impact while serving a sentence is not easy, but Michael, Justin and Walt showed me through their own experiences that it can be done. I literally had my game plan together weeks before I started my sentence, and thanks to the three of them, I served my time with dignity and provided value to others in their educational goals. While most people walk through the doors, as Walt Pavlo shared with me, “experiencing the shock of it all,” I knew how I was going to spend my time, and executed on my plan. Also, thanks to the counsel of Michael and Justin, I prepared my reading list in advance, as I love to read, and ended up completing 64 major hardback books in 62 weeks. Again, listen, plan, execute. I would also add that while I was serving my sentence, Justin assisted my wife, again unselfishly, with questions she had pertaining to my incarceration.
Thus, for those of you who are looking to select a “prison consultant,” please be very meticulous and careful in your research. My consultant, who was certainly helpful on some issues, got many things wrong, from the “slam dunk” of getting me where I wanted to be designated (he didn’t), to how many people were in a cube, when my commissary would renew, and finally, what I should expect in terms of half-way house time. These are all important issues, and a credible consultant is going to be honest in setting expectations as to what he “can and can not do” to help you and your family prepare.
As I conclude, I return to Walt, Justin and Michael, where the best value they provided me was on “getting my game plan” together well before self-surrendering. My attitude when I walked through the door (thanks to their advice, I was there right when “intake” opened, as to allow for a smooth, quick and easy entry) was “OK, lets get started, I have things I want to accomplish while I am here, and I am going to do it.” And, I did. When I walked out the door, alone, as I walked in, it was with a feeling of pride and accomplishment. That is not easy to do while serving a federal sentence, but my thanks again to Justin, Michael and Walt, who demonstrated through their own power of example that it can be done.
When I now look at my future, as I shared with the FCPA Professor in an interview “First and most important is to continue on my path and dedication to healthy living, both personally and professionally. I took a lot for granted in my life, including financial security, the connection of family and friends, as well as my own liberty. I suffered great losses due to my own selfish behavior.
While all that is in the past, I do keep an eye on the rear view mirror as a reminder to never return to those behaviors, and to remember what is important. What I hope to achieve now, is somewhat similar to my goals before I surrendered at the Camp in Lewisburg. How I can contribute my experiences and perspectives to help others in their own challenges.”