The Complicated Travails of Cameron Douglas

At Cameron Douglas' sentencing yesterday for using drugs while in prison, the judge hammered him with a 54 month sentence, consecutive to the 5 year sentence he is already serving for a drug conviction.

“I don’t believe that I have had another case ever...of a defendant who has so recklessly, and flagrantly, and wantonly and criminally acted in as destructive and manipulative a fashion,”

After reading all the recent pleadings on PACER, the judge's 54 month sentence is not all that surprising. It's not just about a judge sentencing a relapsing drug-addicted inmate to a lot of time. The full story, as told by the pleadings of both sides and two other involved defendants, is below. Read it and decide whether you think the sentence was appropriate: [More...]

We all remember Cameron's highly publicized 2009 case. The Government alleged that from August 2006 until his arrest in the summer of 2009, Cameron distributed and conspired with others to distribute, more than 500 grams of crystal meth and more than 5 kilograms of cocaine. (In a recent filing, the Government says the amounts were more than 4.5 kilograms of meth and more than 20 kilograms of cocaine.) He immediately agreed to cooperate against his alleged suppliers and was released on bond pending trial to his mother's home, subject to home detention. While on home detention, he had his girlfriend attempt to bring him heroin. (The security guards at his mother's house intercepted the package, which was an electric toothbrush with 17 glassine packets of heroin inside.) His bond was revoked and he was remanded to MCC.

He pleaded guilty pursuant to a cooperation agreement, and was sentenced on April 20, 2010. Because of his cooperation against others, and his serious need for drug treatment in prison sooner rather than later, even though his sentencing guidelines were 151-188 months, the Court sentenced Cameron to only five years. Cameron went off to serve his sentence at the Federal Prison Camp in Lewisburg, PA.

Douglas was represented in that case by two teams of lawyers. One was the law firm Lankler, Siffert & Wohl LLP. The other was a team led by Nicholas M. DeFeis, who continues to represent Douglas.

In early October, 2011, Cameron testified against a defendant named David Escalera, one of his alleged suppliers. He admitted that while detained at MCC, one of former lawyers, a female from Lanker, Siffert & Wohl, had smuggled Xanax into MCC for him.

The female lawyer was part of his defense team from October 2009 until at least May 2010. In January, 2011, she was charged in federal court with bringing a total of 32 Xanax pills to Douglas at the MCC on four occasions in April, 2010. This was four months after he had pleaded guilty and while he was awaiting sentencing.

This lawyer began visiting him at MCC in October, 2009, sometimes as often as daily and sometimes during weekends. After he was moved to the federal prison camp at Lewisburg, PA to serve his sentence, she continued to visit him and also had telephone and e-mail contact with him (as a "social vistor" not his lawyer.) Their relationship, according to his testimony at the trial of alleged supplier David Escalera and e-mails and transcripts of recorded jail phone calls, is described as romantic, but not physical. ( The Daily Mail has more on his testimony about her.)

The lawyer admitted the allegations in January, 2011, when she entered a six month deferred prosecution agreement with the Government. (Meaning her charges will be dropped and she will have no record.)

Douglas was brought back to MCC from Lewisburg in January, 2011, in anticipation of him testifying against David and Eduardo Escalera, who had been charged a month after Cameron's sentencing, as the result of Cameron having called and texted them at the behest of law enforcement after his July, 2009 New York arrest. The Escalera brothers were arrested in LA and brought to NY for trial.

The Escalera case was continued and Cameron was sent back to Lewisburg. In September, 2011, he was writted back to MCC. The Escaleras' cases were then severed for trial.

In September, 2011, about a month before David Escalera's trial, the Government informed his and Eduardo's counsel that Cameron had obtained Xanax through his former lawyer. It also said Cameron would now testify at their trials not as a cooperator, but under a grant of immunity.

Why? During meetings with Cameron's legal team, which now was assisted by Ben Brafman (Dominique Strauss-Kahn's lawyer), Team Cameron said Cameron would refuse to testify at the Escaleras' trial, invoking his 5th Amendment privilege, since matters would arise for which he had not been charged or convicted. They said the only way around that was for Cameron to be granted immunity from such prosecution. The Government ended up giving it to him. The Government told the Court:

Because of Douglas's possible exposure to further prosecution, counsel for Douglas indicated that Douglas would invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege and would not testify except pursuant to a grant of immunity, and the undersigned explained that the Government would not submit any request to the Court, pursuant to Rule 35 or otherwise, to afford Douglas sentencing consideration for his testimony at the Escalera trial. Permission from the relevant authorities in the Department of Justice for an immunity order permitting Douglas to testify has been secured.

Accordingly, we presently anticipate that Douglas will testify not pursuant to any agreement with the Government, but rather pursuant to a grant of statutory immunity.

David Escalera went to trial first, around October 4, 2011. Cameron testified against him on October 4 and 5, 2011. David was convicted.

Shortly after David's trial, on October 19, 2011, the Government charged Cameron with one count of possession of a narcotic drug and a Schedule III controlled substance while in prison from between May, 2011 to at least October 16, 2011. (This has nothing to do with the former lawyer bringing Xanax to him.) The charge carries a maximum term of imprisonment of twenty years, which must be consecutive to the original sentence. Cameron pleaded guilty the next day, on October 20, 2011.

The facts underlying the charge: On October 19, 2011, while at MCC, guards found .03 of a gram of Suboxone, a medication prescribed to treat heroin addiction, and residue of white powder thought to be a narcotic in his cell. While the white powder didn't test positive for anything, Cameron's urine had traces of opiates. (Interestingly, while Cameron had been detained at MCC in 2010, one of the drugs they gave him to treat his addiction was Suboxone.)

In addition, according to the Government, it received information from inmates that Douglas had been seen snorting substances like Wellbutrin before the seizure of Suboxone on October 16.

When Cameron pleaded guilty on October 20, 2011, he admitted that he possessed Suboxone from at least May 20, 2011 through October 2011, while an inmate at both Lewisburg and the MCC. (It's not clear whether he was using the substances while testifying against David Escalera.)

Eduardo's trial was initially set for October 24, 2011 and then December 5, 2011. It's now been continued again and the Government recently said it has decided not to call Cameron as a witness at all.

Cameron's guidelines were at first thought to be 12 to 18 months, then 18 to 24 months. The Government sought 24 months. The defense asked for no additional time because he received a harsh punishment from the Bureau of Prisons. Probation recommended a year and a day.

The judge yesterday hammered Cameron, sentencing him to 54 months, consecutive to his original 5 year sentence. Why so much time?

It wasn't just that Cameron used drugs. It was also the Government's allegation that he obstructed an ongoing government investigation into who gave him the suboxone at MCC, by refusing to assist the investigation and by lying and sending investigators in the wrong direction. The Government says it only discovered the lies when another cooperating inmate came forward with "the truth."

In addition, David Escalera, already convicted, has filed a motion to set aside the verdict, alleging Cameron had used drugs and been high while testifying against him. That motion is pending. And the Government has now decided to try Eduardo Escalera without Cameron's assistance. (How would it explain Cameron's refusal to help and his lies about the source of the suboxone, while telling the jury to believe him about Escalera? )

On the one hand, as Cameron's lawyers point out, the latest offense involved a very small user quantity of drugs and the seizure of a fraction of one pill, by an inmate who is "severely opioid deficient and in dire need of treatment for his drug addiction" -- an addiction for which he was not afforded adequate treatment while incarcerated. He simply "did not have the tools or judgment to make the right decisions with regard to drug use."

On the other hand, he conned one of his lawyers into a pseudo-romantic relationship in order to get her to bring him Xanax, jeopardizing her career as an attorney. He has also jeopardized the conviction of defendant David Escalera and the upcoming trial of Eduardo Escalera.

In arguing that Cameron obstructed justice in the investigation into how the suboxone he possessed came into MCC and by his false statements about how and from whom he obtained it, the Government wrote:

As a result of his false “innocent explanation” for his heroin possession, the Government’s investigation was stymied until new information about the true source of Douglas’s heroin came to light from the CW (Cooperating Witness.) Rather than moving to apprehend the true source of the heroin from the beginning, the Government wasted its resources pursing the false leads provided by Douglas.

The arrest of the heroin smuggler was accomplished only after the CW came forward and provided the Government with an accurate account of how Douglas came to possess the heroin. Shortly thereafter, the Government was able to arrest an individual as he attempted to smuggle heroin into the MCC. In light of the importance of keeping narcotic drugs out of BOP facilities, Douglas’s obstruction cannot be excused.

That seems to be a bit of hyperbole since the Suboxone was not found until October 16, and the Government charged the alleged supplier on October 27, so it was only 10 days the investigation went in the wrong direction. Also, the Government agreed to a personal recognizance bond for the alleged supplier to MCC, so it can't view the guy as all that dangerous. The Government also doesn't mention one pretty obvious reason Cameron might have for refusing to name who he got the suboxone from: A very real fear of retaliation by other inmates. (A shorter sentence doesn't do you much good if you're not going to survive in prison long enough to finish serving it.)

What makes today's sentence particularly harsh is that Douglas was also punished twice by the Bureau of Prisons for his episodes of drug use. The punishments include the loss of 80 days of Good Time Credit, loss of family visits for two years, loss of social visits for up to three years, and confinement in "Disciplinary Segregation" for nearly one year. Disciplinary segregation means 23 hours a day in solitary.

So on the one hand, Cameron's going from a 60 month sentence to a 114 month sentence, will lose close to 3 months in good time, will spend a year in solitary, will have no social visits for a few years, and unless BOP changes its mind, will not be allowed family visits for two years. He didn't distribute drugs to other inmates. He scored small amounts and used them. That is a harsh sentence.

On the other hand, the harsh sentence was not just imposed because Cameron, a continuing drug addict in need of treatment, illegally used drugs while in prison, but also for the multiple consequences of that drug use. He conned both his girlfriend and his lawyer into bringing him drugs, was observed by other inmates snorting drugs in prison, was found with drugs in his cell that he requested someone to bring into MCC, has placed two subsequent cases in jeopardy, and despite his cooperation agreement, not only refused to assist the Government in its Suboxone investigation, but lied, sending them on an (albeit short) wild goose chase.

One other note: contrary to news reports, the judge did not order Cameron to forego family visits. Rather, according to the sentencing judgment, he recommended that Bureau of Prisons remove the family visit restriction. He also recommended Cameron be placed at a prison facility that allows drug treatment at the outset. (His lawyers argued at his original sentencing that BOP doesn't place inmates into RDAP (the residential drug program) until they are 27 or so months from release.)

So was Cameron's sentence too harsh? On balance, even though he's a manipulator and he needs a jolt of reality, I'd say yes. If the Government wants to put drug addicts in jail, it should either have to provide effective drug treatment immediately, rather than making them wait years until they are close to release, or accept the reality that inadequately treated inmates will repeatedly relapse by using drugs smuggled into the facility.

Cameron didn't get treatment at Lewisburg and he repeatedly relapsed. That might not have occurred had he been provided effective treatment immediately. He has no control over when he will be admitted to the intensive drug treatment program, but the Bureau of Prisons does.

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  • Display: Sort:
    I believe in legalization. (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by lentinel on Thu Dec 22, 2011 at 05:13:08 AM EST
    If Cameron could have received his medication from a licensed physician instead of a dealer, he would not be in jail and society would not be embroiled in this horrible square dance.

    People need to escape sometimes.
    Some watch insipid and predictable television shows.
    Some watch sporting events - like poker.
    Some have a drink or two.
    Some have a poke or two of MaryJane.

    Heroin, from what I have read, although it is highly addictive, is a habit that does not destroy the body if it is controlled.

    Addicts who become dealers, as with Cameron, do so to raise money to support their habits. If the substance were legalized, and he received what he needed from a physician, his habit would cost pennies a day and there would be no need to deal. Eventually, he could have chosen to recover without having to expose himself to incarceration.

    In the 1920s, people were shot and killed for brewing beer.
    People were jailed for selling it. An underworld industry was born that continues to thrive to this day. It has infiltrated all levels of government, imo. It has robbed us of our tax money. It has provoked wars. Keeping a substance illegal that some people desperately want keeps the underworld in business.

    Today, booze is a staple of modern society. It is elegant. It is served at White House dinners.

    Either this is the land of the free and the home of the brave, or it isn't.

    What could not be clearer - to me, at (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by Anne on Thu Dec 22, 2011 at 08:56:02 AM EST
    least - is that criminalizing drugs has created a vast infrastructure centered on prosecution and incarceration that is costing this country billions and billions of dollars; that infrastructure - or perhaps we should call it some kind of "industry" - cannot keep up with the huge numbers of people getting caught up in it,  is not equipped to deal with the effects that ripple out to family members, the business community, neighborhoods, schools - and will never in a million years have the funds or the resources to deal with the real problem: addiction.

    There are those who will take the position that (1) we have laws, (2) people know what is legal and isn't legal, (3) they can choose not to break the law, and (4) if they do break the law, they have to deal with the consequences, however fair or unfair those consequences are.

    On its face, that is all true.  But addiction complicates everything.  It distorts one's thinking, one's decision-making, wreaks havoc on one's finances, leads to job loss, homelessness, and, of course, crime.  Yes, we all know that no one forces anyone to snort that first line of coke, or heroin.  No one forces anyone to pick up the crack pipe or take that first toke of meth. We know that.   But no one forces anyone to do something that is perfectly legal - drink - and yet, alcohol abuse and addiction costs are through the roof, it destroys families, leads to crime and homelessness, and every other thing that also flows from drug addiction.

    And it's important to take into consideration that not all people get addicted to drugs via illegal means - there are a lot of people with drug habits who got those habits through legally-prescribed medication.  

    Some days I feel like we are becoming a nation that thinks the answer to everything is another law, followed by more police to lock up more people, and more prisons to keep pace with the convictions handed down in overcrowded court systems that have become numb to a process that more and more resembles an assembly line - or a revolving door.

    Face it: we are failing more people than we are helping.  Cameron Douglas had all the financial, educational and societal advantages, and he still ended up in prison as a result of his addiction.  Millions more don't have those advantages, don't even have any hope of those advantages, and we are failing them as a society.

    Addiction is complex - we don't spend enough money on research, we don't spend enough money on treatment.  We deal with it when it hits the criminal justice system by locking people up - and then wonder why that doesn't help, either.

    I don't have the answers, but it's clear to me that the ones we have come up with so far are not the right ones.  

    My father was a psychiatrist (5.00 / 0) (#7)
    by NYShooter on Thu Dec 22, 2011 at 02:36:12 PM EST
     and an authority on drugs and addiction. He was also an "expert," often called upon by the courts to give his comments, analysis, and often, diagnosis.

    He argued vigorously, and emotionally with judges and their all-too-often misplaced, and counterproductive punitive approach in dealing with addicts. His experience indicated that "kicking the habit" on an addict's first attempt is so rare as to be virtually non existent. The same with second, third, forth, and so on. Most addicts, even the most dedicated and motivated require many attempts before "success" becomes a possibility. Knowing that, anecdotally, and clinically,  why, he  argued, do intelligent people continue to play this cruel, redundant fantasy of an approach when every trained specialist knows better?

    Our present approach to drugs, and addiction, is not only stupid, but brings out nothing short of sadism on the part of the powerful vis-à-vis poor, helpless, sick individuals. I have found in talking with even the most far Right Wing partisans, when the situation is presented in an intelligent, non emotional, fact rich way, a general sense of acknowledgement, if not total agreement is often the result.

    At the risk of being called an Obama hater for the thousandth time, this is an issue custom made for the intellect and education possessed by our President. What a hero he would be if he took on this issue with all the sincerity, and cognitive skills he controls. This is an area where his Leadership and decency could reap such huge rewards.  

    And, it's an issue where "reaching across the aisle" could actually bring him the success he's missed so many times before.

    It's the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do, it's the humanitarian thing to do, and it's the Christian thing to do. With little more than his innate, God given talents, and the bully pulpit, he could get a "return on his investment" so tremendous that his legacy would not only be assured, but would be so very greatly deserved.

    Seems to me... (none / 0) (#3)
    by kdog on Thu Dec 22, 2011 at 08:02:28 AM EST
    the additional punishment is for jerking the prosecutors around with his cooperation...the dope is besides the point.  Ya can't f8ck with persecutors and get away with it.

    I thought (none / 0) (#8)
    by BackFromOhio on Fri Dec 23, 2011 at 11:19:48 AM EST
    Jeralyn indicated that the deception of the prosecutors was motivated by CD's fear of retaliation - understandable to me.

    Very understandable to us... (none / 0) (#9)
    by kdog on Fri Dec 23, 2011 at 11:25:07 AM EST
    to the prosecutors?  I don't think they give a sh*t about any of that.

    The judge's (none / 0) (#5)
    by KeysDan on Thu Dec 22, 2011 at 11:21:15 AM EST
    stern words of amazement and admonishment are surprising to me.  This case seems not terribly unusual: an addict who is manipulative, untrustworthy,  self-centered, obsessed with, and consumed by, the quest for the next fix..... all the text book characteristics.    Even, the deception with the prosecutors--the stock and trade.   Although concurrent, the sentence is too harsh.  And, worse, is his handling by the prison.  Denial of family visits and solitary are just what is not needed.  Of course, drug treatment should be immediate.

    Superb analysis, TL (none / 0) (#6)
    by Peter G on Thu Dec 22, 2011 at 11:32:54 AM EST
    Thanks.  And Happy Hanukkah.

    So If Addiction Is A Disease (none / 0) (#10)
    by john horse on Sat Dec 24, 2011 at 11:11:53 AM EST
    and you want this young man to be kept incarcerated "long enough to where advances in medical sciences can ultimately help him", then my question is what other diseases should this also be applied to?  People with cancer?  Heart disease?  

    In my mind drug addiction is like alchololism.  We don't lock people up for drinking alcohol.  We do lock people up for actions related to drinking alcohol, such as drunk driving.

    I think drugs and alcohol are bad for you.  I'm in favor of providing help for anyone who wants to kick their habit.  However, that help should not be imposed but must be sought by the addict or alcoholic.  As painful as it is to see someone destroy their life, you cannot make someone quit who does not want to quit.

    If addiction is a disease then lets treat it like a disease.  Criminalization of drug use is not the answer.