BOOK REVIEW: Inside Story: The Wall Street Criminal Who Wasn’t by James Fleishman
March 5, 2014 -- James Fleishman has hit the free ground running with his self-published book, Inside Story: The Wall Street Criminal Who Wasn’t. Released from the Bureau of Prisons’ clutches in October 2013, Fleishman recounts his time at the sharp end of what America calls a justice system.
As the title Inside Story indicates, the bulk of Fleishman’s story depicts daily life as fodder for America’s “prison-industrial complex.” The chapters formed from contemporaneous notes mailed out from prison capture the essence of a governmentally run growth “industry” of waste and degradation.
Having walked in Fleishman’s shoes, I know of what he speaks. In fact we faced the same judge, the same jury pool, the same prosecutorial tactics, similar family concerns—and ultimately, similar injustice.
Rounded up in the Southern District of New York’s recent insider-trading crackdown, as I had been a few years before in a different crackdown , Fleishman is one of the “79” in U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s chest-thumping 79-0 conviction record . That’s 79 people convicted of insider trading, routinely by means of coerced guilty pleas or—if they insisted on going to trial—compensated treachery.
This is where I believe Fleishman’s book does the most public service, describing the coercion and treachery I refer to as the “Cooperator Game” in action. It is a dirty process rife with an obvious potential for injustice. The game hinges on the government intimidating an individual with the threat of a long prison sentence and the bankruptcy of his family, followed by a bribe of leniency if he’ll just do and say what the government deems necessary to imprison another. Under such pressure many a frail flower wilts. It is a favorite tactic of the United States Department of Justice becau se a career-oriented prosecutor can scare up the exact testimony needed for a courtroom win—neither impressive nor honorable, if you think about it.
The book opens with Fleishman in a California Subway shop being ambushed by two FBI agents. While trying to scarf down a sandwich to offset low blood sugar, Fleishman, a diabetic, is told he’s guilty of insider trading and could spend a very long time in prison, but might be able to avoid that if he just plays ball by becoming a government tool (in every sense of the word). Fleishman’s specific recap, including good cop/bad cop, the threats, the lies and the bribe (you’re “putting points on the board” for the sentencing judge), is telling.
Being unaware of any illegality at his firm and sickened by the thought of hurting any of his colleagues, Fleishman informs the agents that his integrity is not for sale. At that point, I’m thinking, “Bravo, Mr. Fleishman, but they’ll make you pay for that.” Those without integrity despise those who maintain it.
Sure enough, seven months later the FBI raids Fleishman’s home. He is indicted and ultimately steamrolled by testimony from people with a moral code opposite his own.
His courtroom depictions, from the hot seat, are ones I vividly recall:
- Former colleagues appearing in the witness box delivering the slanted and well-rehearsed testimony they know will please their masters, the prosecutors.
- A jury panel with twelve of H.L. Mencken’s “Boobus americanus,” still stinging from the 2008 financial crisis and prepared to believe any accusation made by a prosecutor draped in an American flag.
- ·Enduring weeks of the arrogance and narcissism that is Judge Jed S. Rakoff, a prosecutor’s good friend and patron of cooperators everywhere, always at the ready to be probation paymaster for a coerced performer. Fleishman captured him so accurately that I chuckled aloud a few times.
My only quibble with Fleishman concerns his use of the word “lesson.” Near the end of the book he identifies three lessons he’s learned. Two are, sadly, good advice: “The best way to get into trouble is by operating under the assumption you are anything more than an inmate. The system is designed to dehumanize and does an excellent job of that.” And “you can never be too careful, especially when dealing with the Department of Justice and the [Bureau of Prisons] in particular.”
We faced the same judge, the same jury pool, the same prosecutorial tactics—and ultimately, similar injustice.
But the first is: “If you get indicted by the USA you best [sic] play along or you’ll be punished for it. Cooperate and get probation. Fight and get a lengthy sentence … In terms of sentencing, the most serious crime you can commit is refusing to help the Feds.” This is an accurate statement, and in my view an indictment of our so-called justice system, but I wouldn’t call it a lesson, at least not an admirable one.
I much prefer the words Fleishman closes with: “Shortly after my leap from the steps of the halfway house I posted the following on Facebook: ‘I always believed I did the right thing but it has been hard to actually feel that way until today. What happened today? I just happened to get my life back.’”
James Fleishman paid a steep price to maintain his integrity: years away from a loving wife and his two young daughters, as well as depletion of his life savings doing battle with the deep pockets of the Department of Justice. But the price was worth it. He didn’t lose himself.
When the FBI first approached Fleishman he could have allowed self-preservation to supersede integrity, taken the FBI’s “thirty pieces of silver, ” and headed down what many see as the easier road. The problem with that surrender, as Judas Iscariot found out, is that you live out the rest of your days knowing that you are a coward.
Reunited with his loving family and in a job that suits him, James Fleishman can confidently look in any mirror, at any time, and see a man, in every sense of the word. Salute, Mr. Fleishman!
Also by James J. Treacy:
Feds Blame JPMorgan in Failure to Catch Madoff (Dec. 23, 2013)
"Surely if someone is responsible for catching securities fraud, it’s the SEC, not JPMorgan."
When Prosecutors Intimidate Witnesses (Sept. 27, 2013)
"If you're going to tell "the whole truth," do you need to be coached on what to leave out?