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March 22, 2009

Tips for the Sophisticated Fugitive — 'I could never figure out why some suspects stuck around'


The quote in the headline above is from Daniel C. Richman, a former federal prosecutor who is now a law professor at Columbia University.

It's from Michael Powell's fascinating article in today's New York Times about why so many people with both the means and the motive to flee life sentences in prison instead stay put and meekly accept their punishment.

Here's the story.


Tips for the Sophisticated Fugitive

The Bernie Madoffs of the world — not just the Ponzi schemer himself but the rogue accountants, lawyers and hedge funders — walk meekly into federal courts with their rictus faces and ashen complexions and the expectation of long prison sentences, and a bystander can’t help but wonder:

Why not take the ill-gotten money and run?

A touch of plastic surgery and a discreet payoff might purchase a sun-tanned life on an Indian Ocean archipelago, a number of which have no extradition treaties with the United States. Even a down-market move, manning an outboard motor for a skiff full of Somali pirates, seems preferable to a life term in a maximum-security federal prison.

Yet as more plutocrats face criminal investigations, few seem to view flight as an option. Perhaps it is a failure of nerve. Or perhaps, in this age of Facebook and “America’s Most Wanted,” the globe suffers a shortage of corners where a rogue might comfortably hide.

(A caveat: “comfortably hide” is the key point. North Korea, the lesser ’stans or the tribal lands of western Pakistan sit beyond the law’s reach, but the lifestyle lacks four-star quality.)

Vic O’Boyski, a retired supervisory United States marshal, considers himself a philosopher of flight. He’s seen the world shrink. The F.B.I. places attachés in embassies, law enforcement wizards work up computer mock-ups of aging faces, and  forensic accountants track off-shore accounts. He reserves professional respect for those who take fleeing seriously.

“No phone calls, no letters, no Facebook, access to money — look, it’s tough,” he says. “If you don’t have an escape plan, you’ve got a problem.”

Once, the fugitive lifestyle was simpler. In 1972, Robert Vesco [top], the stock scammer and maker of illegal campaign contributions to President Richard Nixon, landed in Costa Rica, donated $2.1 million to a company that just happened to be founded by the president, and waited until (miracle!) Costa Rica passed a law barring his extradition. Today, Costa Rica is a popular vacation destination for budget travelers and decidedly unwelcome to scalawags seeking to avoid extradition.

Casting farther back, when Mayor Jimmy Walker of New York faced whispers of bribe taking in 1932, he packed up his curiously large mayoral fortune and repaired to the French Riviera, remaining in Europe until the whispers ceased.

Now the world is more circumscribed. The United States has extradition treaties everywhere in the Western Hemisphere, and much of Europe, a 2007 report said.

The most successful fugitives tend to be high-end career criminals rather than financiers; James “Whitey” Bolger Jr., boss of the Winter Hill Gang in Boston, disappeared in 1999 and has not been seen since, although sightings are reported from Taormina, Sicily, (unlikely) to Dublin, Ireland (much more likely). “He puts on a pea cap and picks up his shillelagh and he’s just one of a thousand old Irish guys,” Mr. O’Boyski says.

Political fugitives are slippery. They tend to commit crimes — a bombing, a bank robbery — and recede into everyday life. So Sara Jane Olson, the former Symbionese Liberation Army bank robber paroled last week after seven years in prison, hid in plain sight for 26 years as a middle-class mom in Minnesota.

White-collar fugitives are less impressive; they’re sharks in a boardroom but pedestrian on the lam. Joe Judge, a retired F.B.I. agent, could not hide his disgust at learning that three fugitives had been holed up at the Breakers, the deluxe hotel and spa in Palm Beach, Fla.

“They’re helpless,” Mr. Judge said. “They’re just not good fugitives.”

Many white-collar suspects are convinced they’re too smart to be convicted: just let them testify, they think, they’ll persuade jurors.

“It’s funny how many don’t understand their problem,” says Daniel C. Richman, a former federal prosecutor who is now a law professor at Columbia University. “I could never figure out why suspects stuck around.”

Some do run. In 1983, while he was a prosecutor, Rudolph W. Giuliani indicted the commodities trader Marc Rich, who sought refuge in Switzerland. Mr. Rich, perhaps with the help of his wife’s campaign donations, would experience his own miracle in 2001, as President Bill Clinton pardoned him hours before leaving office.

Two more loom as exemplars of the plutocrat on the run.

In 2006, a federal jury indicted Jacob (Kobi) Alexander, an Israeli-American business wunderkind, on charges of wire and securities fraud. Mr. Alexander and his family flew to Namibia, which has no extradition treaty with the United States.

The fugitive more or less tried to buy Namibia. He sponsored scholarships and built low-income solar-powered buildings, and he lived in a spectacular home in Windhoek. Last summer, according to The Wall Street Journal, he apparently felt confident enough to throw a four-day bar mitzvah for his son — and charter a jet to fly in 200 friends from New York City.

Then there’s Sholam Weiss, whose run is the stuff of hallucinatory poetry. A plumbing supplier from Brooklyn, he proved brilliant at financial fraud. In 1999, while on trial in Florida on charges he defrauded a large insurance company, he took off for Brazil, where he acquired a girlfriend and once was spotted cavorting with 10 prostitutes, 5 dressed up as parochial-school girls.

Mr. Judge, the F.B.I. agent, became worried that Mr. Weiss was trying to impregnate a Brazilian; the country’s law bars extradition if a fugitive has a child. “We were,” he recalls, “fighting not just extradition but ovulation.”

Alas, this fugitive tale comes wrapped in cautionary cloth. Mr. Weiss was arrested, although not until he fled Brazil for Austria. In his absence, an angry federal judge handed down a tough sentence, as might be discerned by Mr. Weiss’s release date: Nov. 23, 2754.

March 22, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What are they?


Answer here this time tomorrow.

March 22, 2009 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Cartoko.com — Map Wiki


"Launched in January 2009, currently there are 1,639 subject pages with more than 5,000 maps."

[via Milena]

March 22, 2009 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Annoy-a-tron 2.0


Where was I when Version 1.0 came out?

No matter.

From the website:


Annoy-a-tron 2.0 – Drive your friends crazy (again)

Now with six sound choices including the Infamous Teen Buzz tone and volume control!

Now that they've mostly recovered from the twisted mind maze that was the original Annoy-a-tron, send them on a new journey of "self discovery" with version 2.0

Now featuring 6 sound choices plus volume control, it's at least twice as fun (and annoying) as the original.

  • The cricket chirping sound is interesting because someone will instinctively look near the ground when trying to locate a cricket. So, placing the Annoy-a-tron several feet or more above the ground will help to obscure its location.

  • The 15kHz sound is also interesting because this frequency range of sound cannot be heard by everyone. In older adults or those with deteriorated hearing (a condition known as presbycusis) this high frequency sound will not be audible, while others will clearly hear the sound and find it quite annoying. They also might think they are going crazy because people nearby will report that they don't hear anything.

  • Assuming you have done your part in selecting a suitable hiding location for the Annoy-a-tron, it will do its part to drive your co-workers slowly mad with its short and seemingly random beeps. And when someone does locate the Annoy-a-tron, they're not going to know what it is - which is almost as much fun as watching them search for it. Muahaha...

  • Six sound choices: Beep, 12kHz electronic noise sound; 15kHz "teen buzz"; Cricket; Doorbell; Alternating between all sounds.

  • The Annoy-a-tron 2.0 takes one CR2450 battery (included) and measures approximately 2.5" x 1.5" x 0.35".

  • It will run for over 4 weeks on a single battery.

  • Two magnets make it easy to conceal.
  • Dedicated volume knob.




Version 1.0 costs $9.99.

March 22, 2009 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

MoPhO — Stanford Mobile Phone Orchestra

Conducted by Ge Wang.

[via Erin Biba's article in the April 2009 Wired magazine]

March 22, 2009 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Training Chopsticks

"Now that China is set to take over the global economy next week, your wee ones will need to brush up on their chopstick skills for the Blade Runner-esque future where McDonalds is reborn as a ramen noodle shop."

"Special training bridge and silicone support piece help position small hands properly."

Includes: chopsticks, training bridge and silicone beginner support piece.

Microwave and dishwasher safe.

For ages 3 and up.



March 22, 2009 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Universal Life Church Welcomes You


Long story short: It's no longer a lightning rod for controversy as it was 40 years ago when ordination could result in draft deferment during the Vietnam War.

Nowadays ordination as a ULC minister is more something people do "as a lark," according to Andre Hensley, church pastor and president and son of founder Kirby Hensley (pictured above and below),


quoted in yesterday's Washingon Post story.


"Celebrities such as Mary Hart, Tony Danza, Courtney Love and all four of the Beatles were ordained by Universal Life Church."

"He [Hensley] estimated that about 25 percent of ULC ministers are actively using their credentials."

"On one recent morning, he ordained people from London;  Ohio; Tennessee; Santiago, Chile; and Christchurch, New Zealand. Ordaining means he forwards a request from his computer to an employee, who fills out the ordination form and puts it in the mail."

"A ULC-authorized Web site, www.ulc.net, has a database of ULC ministers. They hail from across the United States and around the world."

A longer March 7, 2009 Modesto Bee article by Sue Nowicki described in detail the life and times of the church; excerpts:

"The church office is filled with 11 computers, five full-time employees and three part-time workers. They are quietly minding the machines, sending streams of information to one another. The stack of 9-by-12-inch manila envelopes grows throughout the day, nearly two feet high by the time the mailman picks it up."

"'We're just here to help people and to provide a service that apparently has been lacking in some churches,' Andre said."

"That service includes putting ordination certificates, regardless of faith or education, into the hands of anyone who wants one. And many people do. ULC sends out between 8,500 and 10,000 such certificates each month, close to 18 million worldwide since 1962."

"About 80 percent of those requesting the free (or for a small charge, a souped-up) ordination form also purchase an additional product, said Andre, 49. It might be something small, like a $3 marriage license, or a $10 book, or a course such as "The PhD in Religion (Doctor of Ph)," for a 'minimum donation of $100.'"

"A church service is held Sundays. Hensley said that at its height in the 1980s, the church attracted about 100 people. That's down to about eight adults and seven children, and overall, things seem pretty quiet these days."

March 22, 2009 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Modern Art — by Craig Damrauer


More here.

[via PAN-DAN]

March 22, 2009 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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