An anonymous correspondent reports from the floor of the Slatkin sentencing courtroom ...
The Necessity of Consequences
To understand how far Reed Slatkin has come, know that even some of the people who knew him, who invested with him, and who had him over to their homes, did not recognize him seated at the defense table. But then, Reed hardly looked at the Los Angeles courtroom audience of approximately 40 who filled every available seat and even stood at the back, at least at first. Many were the very people he had both befriended and defrauded. Perhaps it was his significant bald spot; did he used to have a toupee? Wearing a green windbreaker, grey t-shirt, blue pants, and white slippers, Reed's prison garb was not the type of clothing seen at Hope Ranch. Neither were the handcuffs, tied to a chain around his waist, nor the leg cuffs, that he wore the entire time of the four-hour proceeding, but they were pretty much not noticed by many in the courtroom until he rose to speak.
Most of the time he just faced the judge's bench, though it did not appear he was engaging the attention of Judge Morrow. He appeared sedated. His eyes spent a considerable amount of time closed though he was not asleep. He said a very few words in response to the judge early on. He made a few comments and facial expressions to his attorney. But more than anything he did not look at the gallery. Except for his statement at the end of the trial he sat in silence in a world that had become just one bad dream for a lot of people.
Two attorneys at his table, the lead attorney being Brian Sun. Two attorneys for the government led by Steve Olson. The FBI, the IRS and the US Attorney's Office was there. Todd Neilson was "enroute." In the gallery...who knows? Scientologists were there. Regular members. Staff? No one in a mock-Navy uniform. No Miscavige to speak for his former parisioner (in fact no one spoke for Reed except his attorneys). On the other hand, Janet Weiland and Helena Kobrin were there (I think but could not swear).
Judge Morrow. Late 40's. Short hair, (the kind mommies like). Articulate, to the point. No nonsense.
The issue of the day was: what would be Reed's punishment? The argument this day would be about adjusting the sentence from what the sentencing guidelines required. The phrase of the day was "downward departure" and both the defense and the government were arguing for that. The defense because that's what defense attorneys do. The government because of Reed's cooperation.
Certain filings were going to be kept under seal and would not be discussed in open court (many related to Reed's "social/psychological history"). Reports of the psychiatrists.
The defense was going to argue about diminished capacity and duress. And they wanted to do it in closed session. Denied by Morrow.
The starting point for discussion was something called the "pre-sentencing report" or PSR. To Reed, by Morrow: "Have you had the chance to review the PSR?" "Yes" "Are you prepared to move forward?" "Yes" The third question I believe related to correcting, had he had time? "Yes." That was the last Reed spoke in open court for three hours.
First, the defense gets the chance to correct various paragraphs in the PSR. Most seem inconsequential or are nuances. One, which the defense objects to, jumps out. Apparently a statement from Dan Jacobs that "Slatkin told me that he was going to misrepresent the COS's role to get a more lenient sentence." The defense objects -- clearly this is going to be the diminished capacity and duress thesis. The word Scientology has not actually been mentioned in the court, but it is going to be mentioned. A lot.
Before downward departures can be made, one needs to know the starting point of the sentencing guidelines. (This part is a bit confusing, I apologize. It's not clear what was added to what, what was already in the plea agreement, etc. The number at the start of the next paragraph IS correct.) According to the discussion, it's 151-188 months per one guideline, but the court is not bound by that (per Morrow) and nothing prevents an upward adjustment by the court. Because the court finds 5 or more people were involved as perpetrators (McMullen, Jacobs, Rakow, Rogers, Janeau, and Didier Waroquiers; Hitchman and Riso?? [ed.'s note: possibly Brian Reso, a Scientologist and profiteer?] are also mentioned) and the extensiveness of the fraud (800 victims, $593 million involved) this bumps up the sentence 4 "levels" in the sentencing guidelines Ungrouping the wire fraud and money laundering charges bumps it one "level." Because the fraud was over $80 million, up another three "levels"
The "new starting point" (my term and again, this is correct) for discussion is Level 38, which works out to 235-293 months, 2-3 years supervised release. On top of that: restitution of $240,295,910.21 and a $1,500 "special assessment."
The discussion of downward departure begins with the defense and focuses on three things. First, his cooperation. Second something called "extraordinary acceptance" which is essentially "above and beyond" cooperation. Finally, there is Reed's "association with certain individuals and groups."
Sun contends the plea agreement helped the trustee in Riblet's court. Even though "passions run high" in this case and a lot of people are "sore," guidelines are just guidelines. Slatkin saved the government time and effort. The judge responds that she does not dispute the utility and significance of what Slatkin has done, but is in doubt about his truthfulness, his completelness and timeliness. This is very troubling. According to Morrow, Slatkin got good counsel who said "you have to cooperate" but it really doesn't come across.
Sun: There was "fear of retaliation." Morrow: "I know what you are talking about."
Sun: Slatkin was influenced by other factors and had issues with certain individuals and groups. Let's just say it "We're basically talking about the Church of Scientology." The hold it had on him was significant. Many of us shared the viewpoint we needed to separate him from the Church. It affected Slatkin. It affected the attorneys. "It took us a while to deprogram Mr. Slatkin." I hear a smirk in the gallery.
Sun: The fear and intimidation...it took several months for the influence of this group to wear off. Breakdowns by the defendant were seen by the guards. He was better by last August. "I think the government will agree that the Church is all around this case and it affects us even in this court...The spectre of this organization is all around this case. Lawyers have concerns too." Another smirk in the gallery, or am I hearing things? "The process we witnessed [Reed] go through is one I'll never see again. It was a painful tortuous path to get there. Even his business was conducted on Scientology principles. It affected his cooperation....Now only a few family members keep in touch with him. He cut himself off from the Church and is estranged from his wife who has filed for divorce."
The upshot of all this? The defense wants the sentence lowered to level 28, 78 months. 5 levels down from the plea agreement, but 10 levels down from the "new starting point."
The defense wants to follow up on its objection about Dan Jacobs' statement. After some discussion, Dan Jacobs is called to the stand. Dan looks like an old hippie even if he is in a jacket and tie. His grey hair pulled back into a small ponytail. He swears to tell the truth "so help you God" and I want to say Scientologists have no God to swear to. I want to talk to Brian Sun about acceptable truths, about TR-L. But that's not going to happen.
Testimony elicited by the government reveals Jacobs knew Reed since 1975 when they were on staff at a Scn Mission in Berkeley. After two years they went separate ways and did not see each other all that much. In the late 90's Reed's son Justin actually lived with Jacobs at Reed's request and Reed asked Jacobs for help with his business.
Get to the point, says Morrow.
In June of 2001 Slatkin meets Jacobs at a restaurant. "'I'm going to go to jail'" Jacobs quotes Slatkin as saying, and "He was talking double digits." Reed had a plan according to Jacobs "He was going to say the Church was a significant negative influence on him. He was quite dramatic. He said 'They're after me' and 'I'm afraid for my well being.' When he started he was talking to me, then it was like he was talking to the prosecutors."
Had he ever indicated the COS threatened to use violence against him? No.
Jacobs said he told Reed "It wasn't a good idea...it didn't make sense. You've said you were helped out by the Church and that they hold you in high regard. This isn't consistent with your story." According to Jacobs, Reed said "I probably won't say that anyway."Reed's involvement was pretty much financial in recent years..making donations. He wasn't taking services.
For a while, Slatkin's son Justin lived with Jacobs so he could have a "stable, sane environment" outside the Slatkin home. (What the problems were was not expanded upon. Justin was asked to join the Sea Org at a large event at the Shrine.
The defense crosses but doesn't do a particularly good job of it in my opinion.
In response to questioning, Jacobs states his current status is that he is not an active practitioner, but he has not been excommunicated. About the Sea Org, it is a group of dedicated individuals. He has no knowledge of any "paramilitary" organization in Scientology (implied by the question as being the Sea Org). He said Reed was really angry when he heard his son was being recruited to join the Sea Org. He was "upset" not "fearful." Since Justin was only 17 he couldn't sign up anyway.
"I was -- am -- a committed Scientologist. I doubt a lot of what Reed has said."
Q: Did you and Reed use Scientology principles in your business, 'admin tech'?
Was Jacobs aware that Reed took some high-level counseling from the Church in 2000-01? No.
And that was it for Jacobs.
The defense continues to argue duress and diminished capacity.
Reed was addicted to the Church, this according to the evaluation of the psychiatrists (another smirk in the gallery). The hold the Church had "was a bigger fact in his life than his family. It cannot be overestimated the grip the Church had." Don't give credit to Jacobs, a member of a group many have called a cult (silence in the gallery). There is one thing that is not in doubt: the role of Scientology in Reed's life. Look what he did with his own son. He had a mix of love and fear with respect to Scientology.
"The Church is highly proficient in collecting funds and is ruthless in so doing....$25-50 million in money flow went to the Church" The COS kept tabs on Reed, and was aware of the deceptive practices because of the Levine memo. Reed feared what would happen if the money stopped flowing to the COS.
The government's turn. Yes we want to downwardly adjust the sentence, Reed's cooperation was, and wasn't helpful. The government acknowledges that Reed generated another $145 million when the jig was essentially up. He did not minimize own role BUT PROTECTED OTHERS AS OUTLINED IN UNDER SEAL FILING (author's emphasis and note: hmm...)
Reed's fear of reprisal should not be a factor. The fear resulted from concern about being ostracised. If he feared Church members why'd he take their money? He is no different than other criminals. If you are kidnapped and forced by a gang to rob a bank that's one thing. If you join the gang and rob a bank, that's different. This was a financial crime with financial motives. Other factors were at work, yeah, but not sufficient to factor in.
Defense again: the fears, feelings were genuine. Asks court to reject Jacobs testimony. There are claims of hidden money; there is no evidence of any. Government is under pressure from victims. There is pressure to make an example.
"The whole world in general knows the intimidation tactics this Church has employed. It has affected everybody." He relates how in discussion with government attorneys they joked about who would sign certain things, who would serve certain things -- for fear of retribution. It was hard to find people willing to speak up.
Then representatives of the victims get to speak. What was interesting is that, for once, Reed turned to the podium where people spoke and looked at them.
The first was Micahel Azzeez, co chair of the creditor's committee. He states that thousands have been impacted. Families devastated. Reed didn't care where it came from. It went on for 15 years..it was carefully planned. He befriended us...visited our homes. Today is his day of reckoning. He has not fully cooperated (Reed's eyes close) He attempted to hide assets. He allowed co-conspirators to flee. Only 20-30% may be recovered. Sentence him to the maximum.
Next, Greg Abbott
An 11 1/2 year sentence "would overlook the utter depravity of the crime." Reed was an indiscriminate predator. He took college money, retirement money, insurance money. Collective suffering is monumental -- thousands of lives permanently disfigured. There is a "domino effect of misery". He has shown no remorse. If he is bankrupt, how is he paying the attorneys? How is his family living?
His stalling helped friend Hitchman flee. Stories of gold coins...art...stashed away. Only a stiff sentence will encourage him to come clean. (Abbott wants longer sentence than what government is suggesting.)
Finally, John Poitras
Plea agreement has not served victims well. We had to fight in court and spend money. "I do not understand what makes a man evil, but I know Reed is evil."
With Poitras done, it's Morrow's turn: "This is a difficult case in many respects. There are competing concerns. At the end of the day no one will be particularly satisfied." The result is a product of restraints in sentencing guidelines. Have to balance the government's argument for substantial downward departure versus the harm done to so many people.
Her ruling. Does not buy duress and diminished capacity argument. The Church didn't make him do it and no concrete evidence they made him continue. He never was robbed of independent thought to the extent he didn't know what he was doing was wrong. Threats were implicit, not explicit (cites US v. Sachdev).
Concludes Jacobs testimony is more credible than Slatkin statements.
The court wants to make clear it does not discount the influence of the COS on Reed.
There was huge cost...havoc...loss. He cajoled those with fatal illnesses. There was gold...a contract to buy a Lear jet...country clubs..a nice home and real estate. The court looked hard to find a diminished capacity case where Scientology relationship was involved. Cites US v. Fishman. Did not lead to conclusion of diminished capacity.
Again she says: "The court does not discount the importance of the Church in his life and that it colored his judgement." No evidence that the Church urged defendant to maintain the fraud...only indirect evidence. Defendant conceived defense after the fact. Even if she had found duress or diminished capacity, she would have exercised her discretion not to factor it in.
Yes he cooperated, but cooperation was "checkered." Some material seized by warrant he said he was going to turn in but only after it was siezed. Cooperation was less than complete. Morrow is concerned about failure to disclose all assets but the court really can't make any finding about that. (Reed looks at Brian Sun and shakes head as if to say he had done all he could and there is no money.)
Morrow states she was originally not inclined to accept the government's 5 level departure recommendation because Reed's cooperation was lukewarm, but after hearing the arguments she agrees to it. The sentencing is moved from level 38 to level 33 which works out to a range of 135-168 months.
Reed addresses the court. This is pretty close to everything he said after making the walk to the podium all cuffed up. He speaks softly and haltingly. The courtroom becomes extremely quiet.
"Thank you for letting me speak. I've been incarcerated for 500 days and...not one of those days has gone by without an overwhelming feeling of the harm I've caused these people who gave me trust. I have been somewhat confused. I join them in detesting myself for the damage caused. The future for myself is only isolation and decline. I will not recover my former life, family or friends. The only thoughts I've had pertain to the necessity of consequences for these acts. I had hoped for some leniency though had no expectation. I have found some meaning in attempting to work with the government and the trustee to see justice served to mitigate the (damage?). I only have that commitment left and hope that I'll be able to participate."
Reed sits down.
The defense then asked that Reed be eligible for drug treatment in prison(?), that he ultimately be kept in Southern California so that he could see some of his friends and family, and that he be kept at the Municipal Detention Center -- even though it is an unsavory place -- for the immediate term since it would make communication with various counsel easy.
Then Morrow had to settle on the final sentence. (Recall the range for the level was 135-168 months.) Morrow stated the government requested 135, but the court had substantial issues about the downward departure, and the court exercises its right to determine where in the range the sentence should be. Given the enormity of the offense and the length of time it went on, she sentenced Reed Slatkin to:
168 months (I later confirmed with one of the attorneys that the 15 months he has served counts toward this)
Then she breaks down the sentence by the various charges, describes how some are concurrent sentences which was impossible to follow. Regardless, the total remains 168 months. (That works out to 14 years).
She grants all the defense requests for drug treatment (defendant to pay for it), and that he can stay at the MDC. The issue of his ultimate prison will come from the Bureau of Prisons, but she agrees it should be in Southern California.
She then makes a mistake: she tells Reed that his plea agreement states that if his sentence is level 34 or below, he has no right to appeal. Because it was higher than that, he can appeal his sentence. Attorney Olson quickly points out the final level was 33 and not higher than 34. Judge Morrow informs Reed that because his sentence was at level 33 he cannot appeal his sentence.
That's it. The the judge leaves. People stand and quickly head out. The general feeling in the crowd seems to be simply that it is over. Reed sits but eventually is led out. During this time I didn't see one person other than the attorneys and the bailiff speak to him. Were any of his family in the room?
The bailiff wants us to leave and we do. All except a woman in her early 40's who sits in the front row, crying.
Dedicated to Shelley Thomson and the spirit of Biased