A journalist writing an article about White Collar Advice asked me how we prepare defendants for their journey through the criminal justice system.
1. What is White Collar Advice?
White Collar Advice is a consulting practice. Our team helps people prepare for best-possible outcomes when those people face criminal charges. We offer both digital-content that people can use as a resource if they want to prepare for a more successful outcome independently, and we offer one-on-one consulting services. We work with law firms and with defendants alike, with a clearly-stated goal of helping people overcome challenges if they’ve been charged with criminal wrongdoing.
2. Can you list any of your more high profile clients who sought your services?
Obviously, we have confidentiality agreements in place that prohibit us from revealing identifies for people that want to remain anonymous. Many of our clients contact us before they’ve been targeted for prosecution. We assist them in retaining counsel. In some instances, we offer suggestions that can help them avoid prosecution. For that reason, I’m not at liberty to discuss the high-profile clients our team represents.
3. Describe your larger mission for the business at White Collar Advice. Ultimately what are you hoping to achieve?
We know that a criminal charge can derail an individual’s sense of equanimity. Defendants feel isolated and don’t have anywhere to turn for information. To paraphrase an old proverb advises, when you want to know the road ahead, ask someone that is walking back. Ultimately, we hope to provide defendants with deliberate plans that will lead to more successful outcomes. We help people put priorities in place. And we help people make adjustments as necessary.
4. When did you start White Collar Advice and why? Where did the idea initially come from?
I am a person that could have used this service. After graduating from USC, I worked as a stockbroker. I crossed the line and I didn’t know where to get information. As a result, my life spun out of control. I gained weight, I sank into depression. I lost my way. Then I went to federal prison.
During my first few days in prison, I met a man that would become a close friend and business partner. His name is Michael Santos. Michael had served 20+ years already, and he was going to serve another six years before release. Despite that length of time, he was incredibly positive and proactive. Michael used his time in prison to educate himself, to master the system, and to contribute to society.
I began working closely with Michael to develop resources that we could use to both inspire and educate people that were going through the criminal justice system. We wanted to improve outcomes of the system, and we worked together in methodical ways to accomplish that task. More than 100,000 people use our sentence-mitigation and preparation programs each year.
5. Has the mission and direction of White Collar Advice changed at all over the years?
Our mission has always been to improve outcomes of the criminal justice system. That means improving outcomes on several fronts: 1) institutionally, to reduce recidivism rates; 2) individually, to help people going inside restore confidence, strength, and a sense of control; 3) , socially, building a “smarter” criminal justice system that builds safer communities for all citizens, while reducing the ancillary consequences of mass incarceration.
6. What services do you offer your mitigation and federal prison consulting clients?
That’s an exhaustive list. I’m attaching our brochure that offers 19 separate combinations of products or services that we offer to individuals that are facing criminal charges. We assist people in preparing for sentencing, in understanding the system ahead, and in architecting plans that influence possibilities for earliest release, with the highest levels of liberty. We also offer products and services to government agencies, like prisons and schools. Our goal is to improve outcomes of the criminal justice system at all levels.
7. What’s been the biggest decision you’ve been forced to make with your business? What was the outcome and how did you arrive at the decision?
The biggest decision we’ve had to make is delegation. As I mentioned, this idea began with my friend and partner, Michael Santos. While he was serving the final years of his sentence, he continued to write content to assist with our mission. Since I was in society, I was developing our one-on-one consulting practice. When Michael was released, we began working together. We had to figure out a division of duties so that we could be most effective. We resolve that by coordinating distinctive roles. I lead the consulting division, working closely with our clients, with lawyers, and with the media. This division of responsibilities, along with the systems we’ve created to get results, has really helped our clients. We’re confident that we’re improving outcomes of the system, too.
8. Before you founded your business what other options were there for the white-collar criminal looking for the services you provide?
From experience, I will say that I did not find much in the way of resources. Some people masqueraded as “prison consultants.” But I did not find much value in the services they offered. Rather than helping me architect a plan that would lead to best outcomes, they were glorifying experiences in prison and telling me about hustles with questionable benefits. Others in the space were retired prison officials that lacked insight on how to prepare for success, as I defined success. I did not need people to sell the fear. At White Collar Advice we do not sell fear. In my case, I needed solutions and I did not know where to look.
9. How many other different types of firms doing your work exist? How are you different?
Anyone can come out of prison and start marketing himself as a “prison consultant.” Many of them plagiarize the work that our team creates. We are different because we are authentic. We’re not asking people to do anything that we did not do, and that is not easily verifiable. Anyone can look at the well-documented success of our partners. Michael began this path in 1987, and his work was being covered before the Internet existed. I am proud to lead an organization that differs from charlatans. We offer curriculums and a best-practice approach to success, and the success of our resources are self-evident, with testimonials from federal judges, prosecutors, probation officers, lawyers, and most importantly, from the clients we serve.
10. Are there lessons or insights you learned as a prisoner that serve you well as an entrepreneur?
For sure. Frank Sinatra sang that if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. Our motto is that if you can make it after prison, you can make it anywhere. As a prisoner I learned the value of defining best outcomes. I learned the value of making plans and setting goals. I learned the value of putting priorities in place. And I learned the value of executing on plans, making adjustments as necessary. Those are the same strategies that lead to success as an entrepreneur.
11. For an individual who has been convicted of financial crimes, what does the road back for that individual look like? With prison as a marker, is the before and after just radically different?
The road back depends upon the preparations made in advance. Let’s take the case of a famous person charged with a financial crime: Michael Milken. The publicized him as being the King of Junk Bonds, and he served time for crimes related to securities violations. But the preparations he made allowed him to rebound successfully. Despite his financial crimes, he is a leading citizen. The same can be said for many other high profile people that were convicted of financial crimes, like Martha Stewart or Alfred Taubman, the former chairman of Sotheby’s. What did they all have in common? They all created plans to define best outcomes. They all put priorities in place. They all executed on their plans to succeed.
On the other hand, those that do not define best outcomes, then put plans in place, can struggle. They simply wait for calendar pages to turn, totally oblivious to the collateral consequences that can follow for anyone with a criminal conviction. For example, banks and financial brokerage houses may refuse their business. They may not be able to practice their livelihood. Their family members may face challenges. They may not be able to live in certain buildings, or work in certain jobs.
In our opinion, mass incarceration represents the greatest social injustice of our time. That’s why we work to help people succeed and get best outcomes. Success does not come by accident.
12. What’s that first night like when you’re locked up? What’s going through someone’s mind as they think about where they were in terms of the unimaginable success they achieved vs. where they ended up as the result of a few bad choices?
At White Collar Advice we remind people the greatest fear is the fear of the unknown. When we help a person understand how to engineer a pathway through struggle to success, we restore confidence. A person may feel as if he is in a dark pit (which is how I felt that first night in federal prison.) But we show him how to begin building a ladder. Then we show him how each step leads him back to the light. If a person does not have that plan, the feeling of drowning and sinking can lead to catastrophic consequences. A person can spiral into cycles of depression, sadness—even suicide. It’s crucial for a person to prepare, and to move through journey deliberately. I learned those tactics during my own journey through federal prison, and our team has used those experiences to help thousands of people.
13. There is no such thing as a “good prison.” But if you do have a choice of where you’re going to get sent what’s the first choice? And on the flipside, where do you pray you never get sent?
In truth, as human beings, I’ve found that we’re remarkably resilient. A person can thrive in any prison, and a person can struggle in any prison. Success in prison is not about the external environment. It’s about mindset. I was only in one prison, the federal prison in Taft, California. When I got there, I thought it was the worst thing in life. But then, as I began working with my partner, I learned a lot more. Over 20+ years, he had been locked in prisons of every security level, from coast to coast. He helped me realize that we can prosper in any prison, as long as we train our minds to think positively, to create pathways to succeed, to use discipline, systems, and plans. That’s the coursework we offer. In spite of all that, my first choice would be to serve time in a minimum-security prison, where there is less volatility. On the flip side, I would prefer to avoid prisons that are more volatile, like high-security penitentiaries.
14. Is there a specific book or philosophy that has informed your work as an entrepreneur and even deeper as a man?
Yes. I learned a great deal from Marcus Aurelius’ book, Meditations. He taught me the importance of documenting the journey and introspecting about the origins of decisions we make.
15. What are the biggest misconceptions that people hold who are facing federal prison?
When people face prison, they are vulnerable. They are in a state of duress. Whether they are in denial, clinging to beliefs that they shouldn’t be in the system, or whether they are taking responsibility for their actions, they have misconceptions about their personal efficacy. They feel as if they’re puppets, and if others are pulling the strings. They feel as if there isn’t anything they can do to influence better outcomes. In truth, it’s never too early and it’s never too late to begin sowing seeds for a better harvest. Our team works to help people see that pathway to overcoming adversity. Then we work to show specific steps they can begin taking today.
16. How much of your work involves Silicon Valley or start-ups in general? Is it a world where the line can get blurry in terms of right and wrong?
We’ve done a lot of work with entrepreneurs from the Valley. Those people are innovators. They’re striving to sell a vision. Sometimes, authority figures misconstrue their enthusiasm. In some cases, that leads to problems with civil authorities, like the SEC or the FTC. Other times, it leads to problems with the DOJ. Whether it’s civil or criminal, a person that is alleged of wrongdoing needs to have guidance. Our team works closely to help targets understand the optics of decisions they make, of statements they make. We don’t make judgments, we simply help them understand different vantage points, and all that we’ve learned through our work of representing more than 1,000 people that have been in similar circumstances.
17. Do you find that we as a society enjoy watching others get punished for misdeeds above and beyond the idea of accountability? But rather we seek punishment for the larger inequities in the system and anytime someone can be made an example we root for their downfall?
As human beings, we’re always attracted to “shiny objects.” We see something flashy and we become intrigued. Our intrigue can happen on both ends of the spectrum. When a celebrity walks into a restaurant, everybody looks. When catastrophe strikes, like a collision on the freeway, everyone stops to look. Then everyone starts to talk. It’s a shiny object. It’s something new.
Hundreds of thousands going into the criminal justice system every day. No one cares. But if a powerful person gets nabbed by the system, that’s a shiny object. People will talk. People will want to make judgments. That’s normal. The more we understand human nature, the more we can understand why people derive levels of satisfaction when others go into the system. Think of the Salem witch trials that we all studied in school. People loved to see other people accused, forgetting that it can happen to anyone. When Michael Avenatti was attacking President Trump, he gloated. Now that he has been charged with wire fraud and mail fraud, he may look at the system differently. An understanding of human nature helps us to put this into perspective.
18. You teach at Marshall School of Business, what’s the single biggest message you hope to instill into future MBA’s.
As we teach through all of our work, I want to leave those students with the importance of making values-based, goal-oriented decisions.