Last week, a defendant said he’d love to work with me, presuming I’m not a fan of Donald Trump. Then a few days later, someone called to ask if me if I would give Hillary Clinton ethics lessons. He was not a fan of the Secretary.

Despite the differences that exist between political parties, celebrities, and politicians (who are the hardest to work with because they are used to so many people kowtowing to them), and executives who get into trouble, there is too often one common prevailing theme: too many focus on themselves, rather than identify with the victims.

I’m not saying every defendant. I’m not offering a sweeping generalization and indicting everyone who pleads guilty. Indeed, many people who reach out to me discuss the heavy pain and regret they feel for the damage they have caused.

Last evening, while surfing the net, I read that Abby Lee Miller who is famous for a show called “Dance Moms“, is going to plead guilty in a $5 million fraud case. Ms. Miller is accused of hiding more than $750,000 in fees and assets from Collins Avenue Entertainment.

Do you know what that means? I do!

It means we have a victim. It means we have a victim whose life or business will be impacted because of the criminal actions of Abby Miller. It means Collins Avenue Entertainment will have to hire lawyers, defend their reputation, their business practices, and more. Even if the money is paid back, or if insurance steps up to cover the losses, it doesn’t change that Abby Lee Miller’s actions have negatively impacted their business.

Considering the negative impact on the victim, I was stunned to read Ms. Miller’s comments, which read:

“Events over the past several months have been extremely challenging for me, my family, my friends and most important, my students. Because of this I made a very difficult decision to close the door on this chapter of my life by accepting responsibility for mistakes I have made along the way. I appreciate all the wonderful messages of support I’ve received from around the world and look forward to the future and getting back to my life’s work; helping young dancers fulfill their potential, the Lifetime host said.

In a word: Tragic.

Nowhere in her message did she identify and sympathize with the victims. Rather than focus on the victim, she opened by telling the media that events over the last several months “have been challenging for me.”

In five words: She doesn’t yet get it.

I believe that we can all become better than some bad decisions we made. I also believe the decisions defendants make early in the process will impact how long they serve in federal prison. I believe defendants need to better understand that despite their circumstances, if they created victims this process is not about you, but them.

The victims come before all else. Now, I’m not stating that you cannot discuss how your life has been impacted. Of course it has.

This is how I opened up a statement long ago to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Before we begin, please let me make clear that I always knew right from wrong. It was easy at one point to blame an aggressive corporate culture at UBS, but that was only a justification to make me feel better. The truth and reality is my terrible actions have created victims, and negatively impacted their lives. I understand many of them may never again regain the dignity they feel was ripped from them. As a result of my criminal actions, I’m enduring these consequences, including the ruining of my reputation, destroying my career, costing me every penny I earned, legally or illegally, and I am bringing great shame to those that love and support me. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to make amends, not through my words, but through my actions. I have a lot of work to do. Please if you take one thing from this short message, please let it be that I feel such regret and shame for the pain I brought to the investors I helped turn into turned victims. I deserve to be held accountable.”

In that statement, I told the truth. I talk first and foremost about the shame I brought victims. They all suffered much more than me, of that I am sure. But, I was also able to express the consequences that I was (and still am) living through. I am fine with defendants bringing their self-induced consequences into the mix, but not before the victims. Again, our consequences can be brought into the narrative, but it cannot be the focus.

If Abby Lee Miller reaches out to me for a scheduled consultation, I will have to invest considerable hours working with her to better tell her story, and to remind her that this is not about her or her friends—it is all about the victims she defrauded.

Justin Paperny

‘Dance Moms’ Abby Lee Miller Pleads Guilty: Time To Shift Strategy
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