In the middle of March 2019, a 69-year-old man imprisoned for defrauding banks, his wealth long gone and now a mere shadow of his former self, stepped quietly out of a federal prison in Cumberland, MD, and moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan owned by a close friend. He is one of the first beneficiaries of a new criminal justice law signed by US President Donald Trump.
The man in question, according to Benjamin Weiser, reporting for The New York Times, is Hassan Nemazee, who prior to his conviction was a wealthy investor and a generous donor to the Democratic Party. He served as the national finance chairman for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008 and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars during Barack Obama’s first presidential bid.
While Nemazee used to own a US$17 million duplex in Park Avenue before, he is not being charged rent by his friend for using the Upper East Side apartment. Nemazee has also been hired as a senior adviser by his anonymous friend, who is the president and chief executive officer for a group of insurance companies.
First Step Act
The First Step Act, the law that Trump signed, offers prisoner rehabilitation programs and amends sentencing policies that have been criticized for being unfair to poor defendants, particularly minorities.
Nemazee, who will serve the rest of his sentence in home confinement, had admitted that he is not a big fan of Trump but felt indebted to the controversial president for signing into law “the most significant prison reform legislation in a generation.” He was able to regain his freedom since the law allows home confinement for prisoners over sixty years old who have served two-thirds of their sentence and are deemed not a threat to other people.
While confined at home, Nemazee is not required to wear an ankle bracelet but may receive landline calls from prison officials late at night or early in the morning to verify that he is at home. He can be summoned at any time for a urine test and needs to have his weekly schedule approved.
Thankful for Regaining His Freedom
Even with such restrictions, Nemazee is grateful for the freedom granted to him. He can leave the apartment to work, go to the gym, attend religious services or make appointments with his doctor and lawyers. He can go out to lunch, which Nemazee says is always a treat, given what he had been through during the last eight-and-a-half years. He adds that home confinement is a remarkable improvement over incarceration in every respect.
During an interview over tea that he gave to The New York Times, Nemazee said that he is thankful that he got out of prison before the end of his term. The new law also gives prisoners more time off for good behavior, enabling Nemazee to finish his sentence by November 2019.
Besides age and length of time served, those who qualify for the First Step Act must have no record of violent crime, sex offenses, or prison escape attempts. They should also be deemed not at risk of committing new crimes or inflicting harm to others.
Trump had said that unfair sentencing rules were a factor to the cycle of poverty and crime, and more than 500 people that have been sentenced unfairly have been released from prison and have started a new life with the passage of the First Step Act.
Sued for Defrauding Banks of US$300 Million
In 2009, Nemazee was charged with masterminding a scheme that caused banks to lose almost US$300 million. Prosecutors claimed Nemazee used fake accounts statements and faked signatures to make it look like he had collateral worth hundreds of millions of dollars in fraudulently obtaining US$292 million in loans from Bank of America, Citibank, and HSBC.
He used the money he obtained illegally in buying and maintaining luxury properties, making financial investments and donating US$ 2 million to political organizations and charitable institutions.
He pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud, and had to surrender ownership of the Park Avenue duplex; an estate in southern Italy; a Maserati; shares in a yacht and private seaplane; and US$93 million in cash and securities. He was also sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Pride, ego, arrogance, self-image, and self-importance were the reasons that Nemazee told the judge he committed such a crime. Judge Sidney H. Stein of the Manhattan Federal District Court, who sentenced Nemazee to prison, described the crime as breathtaking in brazenness and scope.
Spending time in prison, Nemazee was not able to attend the wedding of his eldest daughter and missed the births of his three grandchildren. Nonetheless, Nemazee counts himself as among the fortunate to have retained the love and affection of his family and friends during his time in prison. He added, “The majority of those imprisoned are not so fortunate.”