Sunday, January 05, 2020

Will Trump pardon Latin music mogul Rich Mendez?

That's the question posed by David Ovalle in this article. If anyone can get it done, it's Mendez's lawyer Phil Reizenstein:

Federal prosecutors said that between early 2009 and late 2010, Mendez’s co-defendants made “unsolicited calls to owners of resort time-share properties,” convincing them to pay fees for the “bogus sales of their property.” The owners, thinking the sales were legit, would shell out thousands in alleged “closing costs.”

Mendez says he fired his sales staff when he discovered they were using “scripts” to lure people into paying money. He reopened, but when the shady conduct continued, Mendez closed shop.

“He shut down his business before the police were ever involved,” Reizenstein said.

His legal team says local state and federal prosecutors both passed on taking the case. But in 2015, a grand jury in Dallas indicted the case because one of the credit-card processing companies was based in Texas. At least eight people wound up indicted on allegations they stole millions.

Mendez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and cooperated with investigators, paying over $300,000 in restitution. Still, Dallas Assistant U.S. Attorney Candida Heath insisted on up to 9 years in prison, and possibly even more.

“You can’t buy your way out of a sentence of incarceration based on the amount of restitution you pay,” Heath said at his July 8, 2019, sentencing hearing.

His other defense lawyer, former Dallas U.S. Attorney James Jacks, shot back: “I don’t really understand the aggressiveness — maybe is the word — of the government’s efforts to put him in prison for what I think would be an incredibly long period of time.”

U.S. Judge Sam Lindsay praised Mendez’s work employing people through his rising music business, but still imposed the five years because he wanted to avoid “unwarranted sentencing disparities” between him and the co-defendants who got similar sentences.

A U.S. Attorney’s spokeswoman, Erin Dooley, noted that Mendez pleaded guilty because he was faced with “overwhelming evidence” In a statement Friday, she added: “Sentencing was at the discretion of a U.S. District Judge. “

Mendez has been free on bond since July.

His defense attorneys won’t say what, if any, behind-the-scenes efforts have been made to grab the White House’s attention about Mendez’s case.

Trump, who has long raged against criminal investigations into his own conduct, hasn’t shied away from granting clemency.

Famously, Trump pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who earned a criminal contempt charge while leading a high-profile and divisive crackdown on undocumented immigrants. In November, critics blasted Trump for issuing clemency to three military men convicted of war crimes.

Less controversially, Trump last year pardoned Ronen Nahmani, an Israeli-born ultra-Orthodox Jewish man who was convicted in South Florida in 2015 of selling synthetic marijuana. A federal judge had sentenced him to 20 years, and Nahmani got out after serving four years.

At the urging of celebrity Kim Kardashian West, the president also pardoned Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother who’d been locked up for life for cocaine trafficking.

Mendez’s plight has also been taken up by Bernie Kerik, the New York police commissioner who served more than three years in prison for federal tax fraud, and now serves as conservative commentator and advocate for justice reform.

“His case is a demonstration of why we need real criminal justice reform within the Department of Justice today,” Kerik said. “We take a guy like Rich Mendez out of the work force, destroy his life, destroy his family. It’s complete insanity.”

Ironically, Rich Music blossomed during the years the legal case was hanging over his head.


Sitting back in the studio, Mendez is unruffled by what’s to come. When he gets out, Mendez wants to work in the area of criminal-justice reform.

For now, he’ll report Tuesday to Miami’s Federal Correctional Institution, a low-security facility. He’s already been briefed on how to survive in prison, and make the most of rehabilitation programs.

“I want to get this part over with already,” he said.


Anonymous said...

"Mendez says he fired his sales staff when he discovered they were using “scripts” to lure people into paying money. He reopened, but when the shady conduct continued, Mendez closed shop."

Whats the point of this paragraph? The guy pleaded he saying he is innocent and pleaded anyways?

Phil Reizenstein said...

Rich never said he's innocent. What we have said from the beginning is that once he recognized employees were committing fraud he shut his business down and paid back the money. Five years later he was indicted. Nine years later he was sentenced to 60 months. During those years he built a very successful music production business. 60 months serves no purpose. None. He did everything the criminal justice system wants someone to do. He recognized and stopped the criminal conduct years before a criminal investigation. He voluntarily made restitution before ever being asked. He corrected his mistakes and went on to become successful. Such a person should not be incarcerated. Period.

Anonymous said...

Poor guy... My heart goes out to him.

Anonymous said...

So to be clear as to the chronology:

First, he conspired with his staff to defraud the public. He knew of the unlawful nature of the plan, willfully joined the conspiracy, and at least one conspirator took an overt act in furtherance of the unlawful scheme. Okay.

And second, at a later time, he
"recognized" employees were committing fraud and he shut his business down and paid back the money.

Im sorry Mr. Reizenstein, this makes no sense to me. I fail to see what you mean by him "recognizing" what was going on. It seems the plea means he already knew what was going on, and he didnt recognize anything. He stopped commiting the crime for a time, perhaps, but that doesn't justify painting him as some boss finding out about the misdeeds of his employees and doing the right thing.

Are you suggesting he did not profit from the scam?

Are you suggesting the reason he shut down was because he felt bad about committing fraud? Or was he afraid of getting caught? For example, had any victims threatened to go to the police before he shut down?

Ill give you the last word, although if you respond and omit entirely what the guy actually did, ill just go on pacer and see if i can cut and paste the factual proffer in my next post (assuming there was one).

Anonymous said...

So he admittedly committed a crime and he got 5 years in prison for it? He may be a good guy but this doesn't seem like the injustice of the day let alone the century. There's guys in state court that serve five years pretrial for crimes they didn't commit. Judges in state court hand out 40 year sentences post-trial like party favors.

Phil Reizenstein said...

No you are not clear. I hope this clarifies it. He was asked to invest in a business in Orlando Florida in 2008 matching sellers of time shares with buyers. Orlando is significant because it's a timeshare hub, the businesses are advertised, and he didn't think it was unusual. He entered the business with the full intent to run an honest business. He had built two car/truck dealerships over the prior decade. He was an honest business man. However, he didn't know the devious nature of the phone sales industry. The business opens. No scheme. No conspiracy. But sales agents start using scripts making false promises. He is not on every call but he finds out within three months and fires everyone. Re opens, the bad script which is common in the industry and leads to more sales (which is all the agents care about) filters back into the office. Seeing that he cannot control the business, he shuts it down. He retains two employees to process refunds and moves on with his life. Others running other and similar businesses stay open until they are indicted. A criminal involved in a conspiracy does not 1- voluntarily walk away and 2- pay the money back.
He gets indicted after Orlando SAO, Florida AG and Florida Middle district all pass on the case.
He decides not to go to trial and instead takes responsibility for his actions which are more in the realm of negligence than overt commission of an offense.
If you know federal sentencing law then you know issues of conspiracy and loss are very difficult for defendants. The common thread between my client and the others was an unscrupulous credit card processor. The 13 hour sentencing hearing ends up turning on this- one 3553(a) factor is the need to avoid "unwarranted" sentencing disparities. I argue to the judge the sentencing disparity I am asking for (no prison) is warranted based on his actions I have described above. While the judge departs downward, he says he will not go lower because he has been directed by congress to avoid sentencing disparities.

So here we are ten years later. Exceptional post conduct rehabilitation. Full restitution. A job creator of 50 plus jobs in Miami going to 100 this year. A person who has changed peoples lives, and the government is exacting their pound of flesh. 60 months is warehousing a productive, creative individual who has shown over this last decade he is not a danger to the community and is in fact an asset. If you have any other questions email me at If you genuinely want to discuss this more I am available.

Anonymous said...

Phil -- from your description of the case, I don't understand why he pled. You are not criminally liable for the acts committed by others without your knowledge. What was his crime? What did he knowingly/willfully/intentionally agree to do that broke the law?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Reizenstein,

I appreciate your detailed response and certainly your zealousness for your client.

Best of luck on a pardon.

Anonymous said...

Under that theory no crime. Should've taken it to the door.

Anonymous said...

How do you get to be a mogul?

Anonymous said...

I dare anyone gullible enough to believe this spin to read the indictment.

Click this link which has a link to the indictment

Still trying to figure out:

How many victims?

How much total loss?

Maybe ovalle knows but curiously he doesnt say...

Phil Reizenstein said...

There is no spin here. Read the sentencing transcript. The hearing started around 830 am and ended close to 9pm.
The government asked for restitution of 288K which is much less than the loss alleged in the indictment We hired the former head of the IRS CID as a forensic accountant who showed that the loss figures in the indictment were skewed and were incorrect. Additionally, the loss figures were intermingled with the other businesses that operated for years that Rich had nothing to do with. They were included in the indictment because those owners were the ones who solicited Rich into the business and Rich was dragged into that conspiracy although he had no say or profit in those businesses.
How many victims? By the time sentencing arrived, the government could locate less than thirty. And if you read the sentencing you will know the government fought us about reducing the loss because we showed in 2010 FIVE YEARS BEFORE THE INDICTMENT AND NINE YEARS BEFORE THE SENTECNING and well before the government investigation began, when Rich shut his business down he retained an employee to process refunds for all the money in the accounts- not just refunds requested. I ask you- what kind of person who realizes a fraud is occurring, voluntarily stops it and gives the money back? You can be skeptical and attack the Herald and my client if you wish. But no one can present any logical argument why such a person needs to be incarcerated for five years ten years after the incident ended.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Phil, BRAVO!

Anonymous said...

There was a time this type of behavior would have gotten probation; if the individual was as righteous as it appears that would be the end of it, although they would have to live with the substantial impacts of a felony conviction. If they were not as they appeared they would violate probation and could be punished, sometimes quite heavily as a result. Individualized sentencing will always produce some disparity, sometimes substantial, because it is individualized.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Phil but you're setting up a strawman caps and all. No one is arguing that 5 years is the right sentence. We're just pointing out that his "acceptance" and you explanation is basically to no crime. My guess is that he doesn't think he did anything wrong but didn't want to risk a trial. He's then rightfully upset with getting 6 years and wants the President to intervene. All good.

Anonymous said...

[This case according to Mr. Reizenstein]

The Court: Mr. Mendez, are you pleading guilty because you are in fact guilty?

Mr. Mendez: Yes, your honor. I accept full responsibility for my actions.

The Court: What is the factual basis for the plea?

Mr. Reizenstein: Your honor, Mr. Mendez agrees that if this case went to trial, the government would prove that Mr. Mendez started a business that employed numerous hard working floridians and stimilated our economy in the process. He is an asset to our community and our country. He has a zero carbon footprint, he volinteers for a local food bank, and he just finished a 2 year tour for the peace corps in Zimbabwe.

The Court: But isn't he pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud?

Mr. Reizenstein: Oh yes, your honor, my apologies. Mr. Mendez also sent an email to his office three weeks before Christmas urging his colleagues to adopt an angel.

The Court: Understood. The plea is accepted. I'm gonna jump right to sentencing and give him 5 years to avoid sentencing disparities.

AUSA: Thank you, your honor. I hope your sentence will serve as a lesson for fraudsters like Mr. Mendez.

Phil Reizenstein said...

Interesting fantasy. Wrong blog. They do that crap on the other one. Meanwhile if you’re really interested go read the 13;hours sentencing transcript. It’s on line. Read as the AUSA tries to get the court to impose a five year consecutive sentence enacted by Congress in 2016 and the judge shoots her down for various reasons including a violation of their plea agreement. And then read how the government has no real idea and ability to prove about any loss amount attributed to my client. Read how the government argues that the money voluntarily paid back well before any criminal investigation should still be calculated in a loss amount.

And then while you’re at it read on line about the same AUSA prosecuting Lt Colonel Robert Morris a decorated war veteran for fixing discarded computers and donating them to inner city schools after being cleared by the army and other prosecutor offices. And if you’re reading about the Morris case read how US district judge Joe Kendall told her on the record she would wreck Colonel Morris’ career and ruin him financially while having virtually no chance to win the case. And finally read about how Lt Colonel Morris was acquitted in forty-five minutes after a three week trial.
Sometimes defendants run into very very over zealous and unfair prosecutors and have to try and navigate very dangerous waters. But as a (bad) writer of fantasy and not a lawyer you would not know that.

Anonymous said...

"They do that crap on the other one."


"Meanwhile if you’re really interested go read the 13;hours sentencing transcript...."

With all due respect, YOU ARE MISSING THE POINT. No one has argued here the length of the sentence was appropriate. We are all talking about GUILT. I'm sure you understand the difference, and the frustration you cause to all of us trying to have a discourse with you.

"Read how the government argues that the money voluntarily paid back well before any criminal investigation should still be calculated in a loss amount."

I havent cracked the guidelines for guidance, but I tend to agree with the gov on this one. The money was stolen. It certainly was a loss for the elderly victims your client preyed upon when he stole their hard earned money to line his pockets. Paying it back doesnt erase the crime. It may erase the need for restitution, but it seems fair that what was actually STOLEN be counted.

"But as a (bad) writer of fantasy and not a lawyer you would not know that."

No need to get mean tough guy. I made an attempt at humor. If it fell flat, so be it. But i didnt expect you in particular to find it funny.


If you really care to have a actual discourse, finish these sentences:

My client conspired to commit wire fraud by [fill in the blank], which he did knowingly and intentionally. While he didnt personally make the fraudulent sales pitch over the phone, his role was [fill in the blank]. The amount of loss fairly attributable to him is [fill in] and he had [fill in] victims.

If you do not care to complete these sentences, please spare us about your arguments about whether the length of the sentence was fair. We get it.

Phil Reizenstein said...

My client pled guilty. I don't plead clients who do not have responsibility. I've never said otherwise. But here is his guilt- omission not commission.
Running a company where fraud was committed. The CEO bears responsibility.
But what I fight back is the narrative my client was a fraudster who entered a business to steal from people. 100% not true. And that farcical article basically states that.
But is my client responsible for not monitoring his employees better ? Yes.

We are an over criminalized society. with the low amount of loss, with his voluntary shutting down his business, this should have been a civil matter. There have been worse acts by companies that ended up civil in nature.

The amount of loss? The government asked for 288K in restitution. Paid before sentencing. About the same amount when he shut the company down in 2010.
Are there more victims that have not been paid? yes. That's why a fund was set up with his Dallas lawyer if more victims come forward.
Average loss? 750-1500. Not to minimize the number, but it's not Bernie Madoff. People didn't lose homes or cars or credit rating.
Number of victims? He got the enhancement for more than 10.
I do not count as a victim the people who had their money paid back -at a loss to my client because he had to use a CC processor who was unscrupulous. Business ran 6 days a week less than a year.
do the math.
My client's role was he opened the office, bought the equipment, hired an office manager and let them run it. He never made a pitch. He never processed a cc -which as you know is wire fraud only in the sense cc's were processed. It's not like he hacked accounts and stole funds. But he did own a company where people were promised something in a pitch that was not true. And he accepted responsibility for that and I am proud of him for that and all he has done since. Google RichMusic and his artists and the awards. He built something amazing.

Anonymous said...

Phil is a bulldog for his clients. It's why he's successful and in demand. Not the wisest thing to engage with those who troll blogs if his client is truly on the list for a pardon. But he won't back down and I give him that along with his narrative. It is compelling.

Anonymous said...

It is not a crime to run a business where employees are committing crimes in which you did not participate or aid and abet. Period. Sounds like you should move to vacate his plea.

Anonymous said...

Omission is not conspiracy. You are asserting he did nothing wrong except fail to monitor his employees. If so, why didn't you try the case? I understand that innocent people take pleas because they are afraid to roll the dice. My take from your posts is that this is one of those cases, and that you thought you could get the judge to give probation. The problem with that strategy is that once you say guilty, you can no longer argue innocence at sentencing. Arguing that all my client did was fail to supervise is saying he is not guilty of the conspiracy charge he plead guilty to. What is a judge to do with that? I agree that 5 years is high in light of the mitigation presented, but shouldn't organized fraudsters (which is what your client is according to his plea, do some jail time?

Phil Reizenstein said...

Monday morning QB. Brave words when you are not on the other end of the indictment.

Anonymous said...

“Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Winston Churchill and Phil Reizenstein

Anonymous said...

I am not a Monday morning quarterback.I am not criticizing your client for being afraid to go to trial. By the same token, I think it is unreasonable to ever expect probation in an organized fraud case, no matter how good the mitigation. Once you admit guilt, you put the judge in a box.Had I been the judge, I would ask you directly why you you counseled your client to plead guilty and are arguing innocence at sentencing. Perhaps if you had gone to trial, and the facts are as you say they are, the judge might have disagreed with the jury verdict and given a lower sentence. Unlikely, but possible.
I feel for your client and hope you can get him a pardon.

Anonymous said...

Look at Mike Flynn

Phil Reizenstein said...

Discretion is sometimes the better part of valor. If you want to be serious, then I have pondered the line where the defense attorney's ego "I can win this case" should end and the client's best interest should begin. It's a hard line to draw especially when at least 75% of clients look at you and ask "what should I do?" The ego often says one thing, experience says another.
Did I want to try and win Rich's case? You betcha. Do I think I made the right decision? Yes. Did it hurt worse than I can possibly describe sitting with him at FCI Miami Tuesday and watching an officer come and take my client away? A client who placed his life and his family's future in my hands? A client who I have spoken with multiple times a day since circa 2016. It's an awful feeling. Lying awake last night thinking of him in some stupid bunk in a dorm when he has done something remarkable in how he rebuilt his life. Knowing the formerly homeless people he employs- one a certified superstar who was on the streets before Rich mentored him and how I was there when a record label brought a check for 2.75 million to that young man and how after the camera lights were turned off Rich looked at him and told him to get back into the studio and grind.
This case is awful. The outcome could have been much worse; it also could have been better. I live with that. And I accept my decisions and recommendations, for better or worse. I'm home. He is not. That will never leave me about him and every other client (thankfully few) who that label applies to.

Anonymous said...

Rumpole flailing around. Can't take the heat.

Anonymous said...

If you're scared get a dog

Rumpole said...

Hey! Leave me out of this. No dog in this fight