Recently, POTUS has commuted the prison sentences of some criminals, most imprisoned for drug-related offenses. Despite some mild criticism from a few hardcore right-wingers, President Obama has received the support of most lawmakers and most law enforcement officials.
It is, of course, presumptuous to advise the President in any way, shape or form. Still, since he seems to be in a “commuting mood,” perhaps he will read this article and consider commuting the sentence of Tony Bascaro.
Anthony “Tony” Bascaro is 80 years old and has been in prison for the past 34 years. Pretty much everyone, except for his daughter and granddaughter, has forgotten about him. If he lives long enough, he will be released in 2019.
His crime? Marijuana smuggling. Back in the late 1970s, Tony was a member of a drug smuggling operation. Ostensibly, Tony and two other Cubans, Manuel Villanueva and Jose Acosta, were shot-callers for the operation. They were trafficking marijuana, using fishing boats to transport it from Colombia to Florida. The 1970s and early 1980s were the “glory days” of illicit marijuana trafficking, which resulted in the War on Drugs campaign.
Government agents asked for and received warrants for wiretaps. All the phone calls made between Bascaro, Villanueva and Ascosta were tapped. So were the phones of their crew, including the phones of the drug ring’s attorney and a guy named Bill Cobb, who, as far as can be ascertained, was never indicted. The agents intercepted the calls and, when the time was right, moved in and busted everyone involved.
That’s when things got interesting.
Prosecutors maintained that the group was responsible for smuggling 600,000 pounds of marijuana from Colombia to Florida. And since the group was considered to be involved in a continuous criminal enterprise – racketeering activity – prosecutors charged them under the RICO statute.
According to Bascaro, Acosta was the “sole owner and leader of the group.” But Bascaro was a stand-up guy and refused to roll over on his co-conspirators. Since he refused to testify, he was held in contempt of court, which meant he spent 16 months in a cell.
Meanwhile, Acosta decided to roll over and his attorney made a deal. Acosta would testify in return for a reduced sentence. He and his accountant, who was his brother-in-law, according to Bascaro, testified against Bascaro and the rest of the group.
The result? Bascaro was hit with four counts of aiding and abetting a continuous criminal enterprise. If convicted, he would go to prison for a long, long time. And under RICO, such a conviction was not eligible for parole. The full sentence would have to be served.
Bascaro was convicted. This was his first offense, but under the provisions of RICO that didn’t matter. His sentence was 40 years in prison.
Bascaro has to be respected for not rolling over, for being a stand-up guy. But by the same token, in hindsight, he probably should have taken a deal. Making deals is simply how the game is played. It may not be right or just, but that’s the way it is. There are no points awarded for being a stand-up guy. Since Mr. Bascaro freely admits he was involved in an illicit enterprise, some might consider his refusal to roll over pretentious, even hypocritical.
Acosta was released in 1994, per his reduced sentence. Bascaro still sits in prison.
Bascaro claims he was not one of the shot-callers. He was just another member of the group. He admits to participating in drug smuggling for a two-year period, during which, according to him, he imported “a few hundred tons of only marijuana into the country, only in boats.” He doesn’t understand how anyone could think he was both a “Chief and an Indian.” But let’s face it, “a few hundred tons of marijuana” is a lot of weed: hundreds of thousands of pounds. In the 1980s, a pound of weed was worth $350 to $600. The conservative value of “a few hundred tons” would have been more than $20 million.
Unfortunately, under RICO, two years is a sufficient amount of time to be classified as a continuous criminal enterprise. And frankly, Bascaro was guilty of drug smuggling. And because he refused to roll over, he received a harsh sentence.
So he sits in prison. From one perspective, he got what he deserved. From another perspective, well, let’s face it, he’s 80 years old, has served three and a half decades, and is no longer a threat to society. He’s stuck in a strange legal limbo: Under present sentencing guidelines he could qualify for “compassionate release,” but present guidelines don’t affect the old guidelines. And his sentence falls outside the purview of recent reforms put in place by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
In effect, because he’s so old and has been in prison so long, he’s adrift, without prospect of any type of relief.
Perhaps a little mercy is in order here. Set the old guy free so he can go home and spend what little time he has left with his family.