Federal Inmates Scammed by Ads Offering Early Release

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Ads mailed to federal prisoners contend that getting out of prison early is as simple as paying thousands of dollars to the right person, the Marshall Project reports. Early-release scams are common as opportunists recognize the captive market of incarcerated people and their families. Companies and individuals have peddled dubious strategies to win inmates’ release under the First Step Act. Georgetown Law Prof. Shon Hopwood, a former inmate, says inmates get letters from lawyers claiming that they can use new Supreme Court opinions to free inmates. “The law rarely works that way,” Hopwood says.

Under the federal criminal code, inmates can get their sentences reduced in exchange for information on criminal activity. Some prisoners are told that for a payment of thousands of dollars, a company can find that information for them. Federal prosecutors say a court is unlikely to accept intelligence that inmates paid to obtain. Other companies calling themselves “paralegal services” sell unauthorized legal advice that won’t actually help inmates win their freedom. “They’re hope dealers. They know that everybody wants a chance, everybody wants to get out of prison quicker,” said Vermont lawyer Brandon Sample. A court ordered a Texas business called “Craig’s Paralegal Services” to stop selling faulty legal advice to federal inmates. The founder, Craig Coscarelli, advertised to prisoners and their families through blogs, his own website, social media, newspapers and the Yellow Pages. He wrote inadequate motions and lacked a law degree, said a complaint filed by an oversight committee appointed by the state supreme court.

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