Sunday, May 21, 2006

Texas parole system fraught with fraud

Kudos to the Austin Statesman's Mike Ward for today's terrific front-page investigative feaure on fraud in the Texas parole system. Some inmates are getting bilked, with families paying for representation by people who may be hucksters and frauds. The state doesn't collect enough documentation to control the situation, Ward finds, with the only regulation a single, unenforced reporting requirement. Here's a taste, but go read the whole thing for yourself ("Parole system shrouds frauds," May 21):

The enigmatic process that determines which Texas prison inmates should be set free on parole has long been prone to eruptions of scandal and corruption.

Shrouded in secrecy and buffeted by politics, the system is largely ignored by the public until it boils over and brings down a governor or spawns criminal charges.

The volcano appears to be rumbling again.

A Dallas ex-con has been sent back to prison amid allegations that he bilked inmates and their families with false promises to help prisoners win parole. In recent weeks, state investigators have expanded their probe to include two other firms suspected of using the secretive nature of the parole process to cheat clients.

As the investigations blossom, an Austin American-Statesman analysis shows that state parole officials appear to have little control over the network of attorneys — and hucksters — who ply the secret byways of the parole process trying to affect which murderers, rapists, drug dealers or embezzlers get out of jail early.

State supervision of this little-known multimillion-dollar industry rests largely on a single requirement — that attorneys hired to help inmates gain parole file regular reports showing whom they are being paid to represent. ...

An American-Statesman review of all disclosure filings in the past year shows that dozens of attorneys ignore the mandate, including many being paid by the state to represent convicts in some hearings. ...

"It's a mess," said William Habern, a veteran Huntsville parole attorney who has been complying with the law for 30 years. "If they enforced this law, there is no telling how many people they might find, how many lawyers are doing parole work and not registering, how many who aren't lawyers are doing parole work illegally and how many are charging exorbitant fees for little or nothing.

The parole system is way too opaque and Ward's story shows there's hardly any way the public can look inside the black box to see how it really works. Reforms that enhanced transparency and made the process easier and less uneven in its application seem like the right first steps - maybe even a public defender office to represent indigent parolees and a lot more public documentation about how decisions are made.

Gary Cohen, a longtime Austin parole attorney, agrees. Cohen, who discloses fees on affidavits and last year provided no fee detail on his annual report, says the fee disclosure rule is "outdated and redundant" and does little to enlighten the public.

"If the original intent of this law was to keep paroles from being sold . . . it serves no useful purpose now," said Cohen, echoing sentiments of other lawyers. "No place in state law are attorneys required to disclose specific fees like this, and even if you know what someone charges, you still can't make any judgment about whether qualified or reasonable services were provided. . . . In light of recent events, that should be the goal."


Anonymous said...

I wasted thousands of dollars on a high priced Texas parole attorney and I have joined attorney Norman L Sirak's class action lawsuit against the Texas parole board. The cost is 400 hundred dollars per person and attorney Sirak is clearly interested in justice instead of the high fees that Texas lawyers are. Look at and High priced Texas so-called "parole specialists" are going out of their way to belittle Sirak's lawsuit since they see it as a threat to their shell game. Well guys, and girls, you have let the public down, just like your prison, parole and state government have. I encourage all readers to inform their local pastors and churches about attorney Sirak's lawsuit so that the word can get past the dirty tricksters. Use the internet if you can, as well. Thank you

Anonymous said...

I paid parole attourney $2800.00 after taking about my sons upcomeing parole hearing. He stated that after reviewing his file he felt confident he could get him released. Three hearings later he's still in prison. Don't waste your time or money on these parasites, they can't help you.

Anonymous said...

the Sirak lawsuit is the best hope for most of us that cannot afford the Houston lawyers that charge one hundred thousand dollars and more to actually get guys out of Texas state prison. Texas lawyers are going out of their way to denigrate Sirak's effort and this by itself proves he is on the level---the leeches are afraid that he will cost them business, and worse, if he wins a lot of guys who have served way more time than they should have will be released. Sirak is challenging the parole board on FEDERAL grounds and you need to read his case carefully---that is the reason why I bought into this effort.

Anonymous said...

help the system choke on itself by maximizing the number of people that get sent to prison. tell your friends not to share any voluntary information with the Texas police--if enough new folks go to prison the chances of YOUR relative being released improve a little bit. Tell all your friends not to share ANY tips, hearsay, or voluntary data with the cops--let the crime fill the jails to overflowing--there is NO LAW that says the public has no share HEARSAY information with the cops --so why help the system that hasn't helped us???The more new folks that enter the jails, the better the chances for your son. Figure it out. Play the numbers and spread the word far and wide. These Texas maroons pride themselves on being "rough and tough"--well good for them. Let's see how they act as their worthless state gets due payback. NO MORE FREE HEARSAY INFORMATION FOR THE COPS!!! as H L Mencken once said "the public knows what they want, and they deserve to get it good and hard." Texas deserves to get it even harder

Anonymous said...

looks like the Sirak lawsuit was another lost cause---his suit was dismissed and his internet sites are disappearing quite quickly. Better to lose a few hundred than many thousands I guess. Norman you are a big disappointment to all of us---stay in Ohio and don't do anybody any more favors.