Summary: Our client, Mike Stoll, invested in our sentencing program. To his credit, he took immediate action and implemented our ideas, strategies, and techniques to complete his narrative. As a result of those preparations, Mike was able to avoid serving time in federal prison. Mike agreed to share his story in a video with my partner, Michael Santos. I share the transcription below.
“Michael Santos: My name is Michael Santos. Today I am with Michael Stoll. He is talking to us today from Baltimore. The reason that I wanted to speak with Michael is because he worked with my partner Justin Paperny in preparing for the challenges of going through the criminal justice system.
I read a great letter that Michael wrote, and I just reached out to him on my own and just asked him, “Hey, would you mind doing a video?” because I know a lot of people go through this type of struggle, and it’s helpful for them to hear from somebody who’s gone through it and come back successfully, which Michael has.
In fact, there’s an old Chinese proverb that says, “When you want to know the road ahead, ask somebody who has walked back.” Michael has walked back.
I’d love to talk with you a little bit, Michael, about telling us about the journey. Why don’t we start by talking about where are you in the United States, and what brought you into the criminal justice system?
Michael Stoll: Well, right now I’m in Baltimore, Maryland. I just moved here about … I guess it’s almost two months ago now. It was the criminal justice system that brought me back to Baltimore. This is my hometown. I was living in the Washington, D.C. area over the last 45 years, and I have a sick wife, and I wanted to make sure that she was taken care of, when the hammer dropped on me, and I had to go to prison.
Michael Santos: What was the challenge that you were working with that … Well, what kind of work do you do in the first place?
Michael Stoll: Well, right now I’m kind of retired. My background, I guess, is in business. I’ve had two pretty successful businesses. One I started back in 1980 with a partner, and we built that. It was a computer repair business. Back then, we actually repaired things. We built that company to over two million in sales, as a service business, and then about 12 years after we started, I sold that to my partner and went into the business of professional seminars and speaking, that type of thing. I was doing a lot of seminars with our industry association, and I really enjoyed it, so I went out on the road and started a company called the All-Star Agency, which we booked other speakers and presenters and that type of thing.
That was a wonderful business, and then the economic downturn hit, and the whole thing went to hell in a handbasket, which really led to my weakening and turning to a situation that was very dicey. I just was desperate to survive, and I just kept going forward, and ended up being amongst a band of thieves, actually.
Michael Santos: That’s something that happens to a lot of people that aren’t necessarily, in the beginning, thinking that they could ever do anything that could bring them into the attention of the criminal justice system, but circumstances change. You’ve mentioned that you had a sick wife. I’m sorry to hear that. When, of course, economic challenges come, sometimes we’re not thinking with the most clarity, and we result in making some decisions that we wouldn’t if we weren’t in some type of duress, as you said, just trying to survive.
Michael Stoll: Right.
Michael Santos: Could you … Are you available? I don’t want to press any buttons, but are you available to tell us a little bit about what the alleged criminal misconduct was?
Michael Stoll: Yeah, it had to do with exporting brand new cars to China. I looked at it, as a businessperson. It looked totally legit, although, like I said, kind of dicey, because we were going in, buying cars, using straw buyers to purchase these vehicles. The straw buyers would sign things that were not so truthful, and that really is what got me into the hot water, because we ultimately were charged with conspiracy for bank fraud, or duping the banks into making loans to sell these cars. Then, the main guy in the company I worked with, he got greedy and started stealing the money and not paying, and that just went down a rat hole, and we all went with it.
Michael Santos: How did you learn that you were the target of a criminal investigation?
Michael Stoll: Well, I actually got calls from some of the people, who were involved, and this guy was not paying his loans, paying their loans, which he was supposed to do. I started getting those calls, and I knew something was amiss. One of the things, I believe, that actually saved me, even after, well, I shouldn’t … It wasn’t after. I saw a video of what do you tell the cops if they ask you questions, and the answer basically was nothing.
Before I watched that video, I decided to turn myself into the police and tell them what I knew about what was going on. After I did that, and then I saw the video, I thought, oh my God, what did I do to myself. In reality, I didn’t do anything to myself, because they already knew what … They were just opening the case, and I just came forward.
At my sentencing hearing, the judge brought that very incident up. I hadn’t heard about it the entire year and a half that I had been out on release, prior to the pretrial release. Then, right at the sentencing hearing, the judge brought up the fact that, because I went to the police without any lawyer, without any advice, and at great risk to myself physically as well as financially, and of course through the justice system, that was one of the things that led to her decision on being easy on my case.
Michael Santos: The judge was easy on your case, and in the letter that I read, you really attribute that a lot to what you learned from Justin Paperny, my partner at Prison Professors. Could you tell us a little bit about what put you into contact with Justin? Then we’ll talk a little bit about the process of how he got you ready for this great outcome.
Michael Stoll: Yes, on January the 26th, I think it was, of ’17, the Secret Service came knocking at my door at five o’clock in the morning, and knocking is the polite term. They rousted us out of bed, and, oh my God, it was horrible, took me away in handcuffs, and threw me in the back of a car, and oh, Jesus, I’d never been through anything like that. I spent that first day in jail and was ultimately given the release on my own recognizance. I got assigned to a public defender, who ended up being just terrific, absolutely terrific.
After that, here I am at home, looking at my future, learning that something like 90-some percent of cases that go into federal court get found guilty, and I’m thinking holy cow! I’m going to federal prison. What am I going to do?
I don’t know. Probably a couple of weeks, maybe a little longer, I just stewed on this, and really was quite depressed over the whole thing. I just kept working to try to overcome this dread, this … I just didn’t know where to turn. I don’t know. One day, I woke up and I said, “Well, look, at least let’s find out what they do to you when you get to prison,” because in my mind, I was going to be curled up in a corner in a damp, dark cell somewhere, forgotten about, and it was just devastating to think about.
I just got online, and I started googling, and Justin’s White Collar Advice website came up, so congratulations, Justin, on good SEO work, because I found him that way. I started reading his material on the website. I thought, wow! This is very, very insightful. He offered a free book, his book that he wrote, and I downloaded that. I read that book. It was so insightful and so — what shall I say? — so relieving, when I read that. It was like, oh my God, here’s somebody who’s been through it. This is what it’s going to be like. He’s telling you what to do and what not to do when you go into prison, and some insight into the things prior to going. I contacted him later, and I learned about writing the narrative, which was the number one, absolute number one, key to the outcome of my trial, or my hearing.
Michael Santos: I think that the greatest fear … It’s a cliché, but it’s absolutely true, is that the greatest fear is the fear of the unknown. When you talk with somebody, who’s gone through it successfully and come back with their dignity intact, with opportunities to build a new life, we, as individuals, find hope. We recognize, yeah this is tough, but now I’ve got a little bit of clarity. There’s another old line that says, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” If we could just learn a little bit from somebody else, how they did it and what they advise, we can start taking action and moving things in our direction to get a favorable outcome. I’m really happy that you were able to get a favorable outcome, which we’ll talk about. What were you anticipating, or what was your lawyer preparing you to expect, before you called Justin?
Michael Stoll: Well, he was pretty new at this kind of crime, and it was a complicated crime. There were four or five people indicted in the conspiracy. One thing I praised the lawyer for was that he never gave me false hope. He never said, “Hey, I’ll get you out of this. Don’t worry.” He always kept me focused on, “Well, you’re going to jail, so it’s just a matter of what’s the best we could do for you?”
Then, I guess ultimately, as we started delving into things, he was hoping that maybe he could get the judge to bring it down to maybe two years. Each count that I had … It was four counts. Each count was a maximum 30 years. I’m looking at this, and I’m just in total disbelief, unbelievable.
Michael Santos: It’s very frightening to be looking at the potential of a sentence like that. A lot of times defendants, who have never gone into the criminal justice system before, don’t really have a full appreciation of the sentencing guidelines, but the sentencing guidelines, of course, are only that. They are guidelines. Judges have the discretion to make a decision, and it’s really incumbent upon the defendant to provide his attorney with as much information as he possibly can to show why that defendant is worthy of relief.
I’m so happy that you were able to connect with Justin Paperny and learn a little bit more about the sentencing narrative process. I take it, after you read his book, and you had your free consultation, you did some work with him in preparing your narrative. Could you tell us a little bit about the process of what it was like to work with Justin? What did you guys do together?
Michael Stoll: Well, the first thing I have to say, it was … There was no hard selling. There was no pushing me to do anything. It made me trust Justin. As a businessperson, I knew he was a smart guy, but you find things on the Internet. You’re not really sure what you’re getting into, and obviously, we’re working with folks who have criminal past, so I was very wary.
Working with Justin … He eased my fears. He was free with advice and counsel. He did not sugarcoat anything, and yet he did not withhold things that weren’t fair to sell me. Had I not purchased his course, I’m quite sure I could not have written the narrative that I did. Yeah, I’m positive. I’m a fairly good writer or communicator, I guess, in writing, and it’s one thing to know that you can put a sentence together, but it’s quite another to know what to say, how to say it, what comes first, what buttons you’re trying to push on the other end. That was the thing that Justin really drove home was how to get that done.
Once I purchased the course, he gave sample letters. He gave his own letters. He was just totally wide open and totally … he didn’t withhold anything, and I felt highly, highly confident. I just decided, “I’m going with this.”
Michael Santos: The thing about that is you definitely were a professional communicator. You built a business as a public speaker and having professionals listen to you, but, as you point out, that doesn’t necessarily put somebody in a position to move through the criminal justice system. The reason is quite clear. Before we’ve gone into the criminal justice system, we naturally tend to see ourselves in a different way from the way the prosecutor is presenting us, and we have a natural inclination, a lot of times, to minimize our exposure, or rather put ourselves, as we think, in the most favorable light, but that actually can be hurting us.
That’s why we need to have a second set of eyes on the document, to go through some Socratic questioning and be thinking about how am I going to move the needle or shift the perspective of somebody who’s going to be very cynical of me. Just as you were cynical of working with a formerly incarcerated person with a criminal background, the judicial system is going to be cynical of you. It’s really crucial to be thinking about those thoughts and get expert guidance that can help you. I’m really glad that you found it in working with Justin.
It’s like a surgeon may have some type of an altercation that requires or some type of complication that requires surgery. He’s not going to do the surgery on himself. He’s going to find another surgeon to help him.
Michael Stoll: Right.
Michael Santos: I’m really glad that you were able to find that help with Justin. You purchased the narrative course. You worked through it. Did you have any opportunity, after you’d purchased the course, to discuss your work with Justin before you submitted it to the judicial system?
Michael Stoll: Oh, yes, multiple times. I wrote the narrative the first time and sent it to Justin. He reviewed it. He sent it back to me and gave me suggestions as to how to improve it, one of which was to shorten it a little bit, because I was getting a bit wordy.
I think the key thing that he helped me with was how to structure the letter, so that the letter would be, or this narrative would be read in the light of who I am, as a person, and I’m not writing this letter to plead my case, so much as I am to let the judge know who I really am and how I feel about what happened. One of the things the judge said in the sentencing hearing was that she had never seen a defendant who so boldly put the victim’s wellbeing ahead of himself, and it impressed her greatly. That was one of the things that I learned from Justin was this is … It’s about you and your background, but it’s not about you saying, “I’m sorry. I didn’t do it, [inaudible 00:18:10] I’m a good guy. Don’t put me away.”
Having focus on those victims was very, very key, and I had no idea how important that was. Had I attempted to do this on my own, I know … I mean, just because the first drafts, I wasn’t going to admit this stuff. Are you kidding me? I didn’t want to put myself in a bad light, but in fact, when I started doing it, Justin would help me hone it down. I could see, very clearly, this was the right course, and as it turned out, it was.
Michael Santos: I’m really happy that you had that outcome, and I’m really happy that you found Justin to guide you through this. You’d spoken a little bit and alluded to how the judge even commented on the structure of your letter and the impression that you made upon her. What did the judge ultimately sentence you to, even though you were facing 30 years? Your lawyer thought that, perhaps, the best possible outcome would be a couple of years in prison. Walk us through what the outcome was.
Michael Stoll: Well, we went … On the day of the sentencing, the judge called me and my lawyer and the prosecution to the desk, and she wanted clarification of things. We were talking with the noise in the background. It was a private discussion. Just from her language and questions, I could hear things that she was asking was being pulled out of what she read about me. I didn’t know if it was my imagination or what.
Then we sat down, and then the actual sentencing began. She started quoting my narrative. I told a story in there, because I wanted to highlight the good relationship I had with my family, my mother and father, that my father, at one point, was a milkman, when I was a young boy, and he would take me on his route to deliver milk. I told in the letter, very briefly, how impactful that was on me, in watching him deal with customers and overcome problems, overcome lack of inventory, and all these various things. That, of course, made an impression on me, as a young guy.
She almost quoted verbatim that little story, a sentence or two out of that story. I thought, wow! This really got to her. Then she told me. She said that she wishes that the defendants that she’d faced could express themselves to her, so that she could get to know them as people, not just as defendants. She truly desired to want to do this, so that she could mete out justice fairly and appropriately during each case.
Michael Santos: What did you-
Michael Stoll: I don’t know if that answered your question, or if I wandered off. I’m sorry.
Michael Santos: No, that’s actually better, because I think that’s really important for both defendants and lawyers to hear. They’re … Unfortunately, a lot of times, defendants get bad advice from their lawyers. Lawyers try to shut them up and tell them not to provide so much detail. In your case, it really had a great outcome, and that’s ultimately what my question was. When the judge put the hammer down, what did she sentence you to?
Michael Stoll: Well, I got five years supervised release and six months of home confinement, or whatever they call that. I’m still waiting to be confined to home. This just happened Monday, four days ago. I just was contacted yesterday about the local, I guess, probation officer here, who’s going to come and visit me next week. Now it’s, all of a sudden it’s very casual; whereas before, everything was so … I don’t know. I don’t know how to say it. The Feds, they don’t fool around with you, but all of a sudden, I’m hearing a friendly voice from the probation officer, and I think it’s going to be okay.
Michael Santos: It’s going to be okay, Mike. I’m very, very happy for you for a lot of reasons, because you were not only successful in avoiding prison. You were also successful in avoiding exposure to the Bureau of Prisons altogether, because you will now … You were sentenced to home confinement, under the jurisdiction of a probation officer, which has a fundamentally different mandate than the Bureau of Prisons. Your liberty is going to be much easier, and I suspect that you are also on a very good path to early termination of that supervised release.
I’m sure that Justin has … If you work with Justin, you will get some more guidance on what steps you can be taking to position yourself for early termination of supervised release. All of this is really a result of your hard work, Mike, and I’m just so glad that you were able to connect with Justin. I want to applaud you for not only taking the course, but also for doing the work of revealing your life story and helping the judge see who you are as an individual.
I’m really excited for you that you are able to stay home with your family and resume your life, without having to go through the challenges of a prison term. That’s what a great outcome is, is an alternative sentence, and you put yourself on the pathway for it. I want to give you the last word, maybe anything you’d like to say with somebody who might be going through this process, as you were a few years ago.
Michael Stoll: One thing I want to say is I cannot emphasize how important that document, that narrative, is. I submitted that narrative to the pre-trial person who did the sentencing report, the pre-sentencing report. That was going to be the first time the just would be seeing anything about me, I guess. She literally … Just like Justin predicted, she literally took my narrative and used words and sentences and facts and everything right from my narrative, directly to her report; also, giving it to the attorney and let the attorney really know and have a chance to understand who I was and what my background was.
You get into these attorney conversations, and a lot of that stuff just goes over your head. He had a chance to see who I was and really feel confident in his defense of me.
On top of that, Michael, this was just totally bewildering to me. Here we are in the sentencing, and the prosecutor stands up, tells the judge that, due to the various things, which I know he read out of my narrative, that he wished that I was not in this situation that I would have to go to prison. He basically was asking for leniency for me to the judge. I had the prosecutor defending me, and it’s all due to the narrative.
If anybody has any idea that this is a bunch of crap or an exercise in futility, I am 100% testimonial for getting it done. Put the work in. If you can’t write it yourself, get some help. Justin will help you, as well, but obviously you can’t have him write it, unless, well, you can pay to have him write it, I guess. I chose not to, but do it.
Michael Santos: That’s very … That’s a great testimonial. Absolutely, Justin has a team to help individuals, who don’t have the skillset in communications that you have, that he can actually produce the narrative by … That just takes work, because although you knew your background, the story of the milkman and all, when we’re working with a client, we don’t know anything about him, so it takes a process of doing what we’re doing right now, as of a lengthy interview. We try to extract as much information as we can, find themes in the individual’s life, and then use those themes to build a story of mitigation.
I’m really happy that you had this outcome, Mike. I’m really grateful to you for providing this testimonial to Justin and his team. I’m just so grateful that you’re able to stay home and take care of your wife and family and get on with your life. That’s the best possible outcome. It’s what we wish for everybody who goes through the criminal justice system. I really want to thank you for connecting us.
If somebody would like to connect with you directly to get a story, is it okay if Justin provides them with your email account? Is that okay?
Michael Stoll: Yes, absolutely.
Michael Santos: Okay.
Michael Stoll: I’m more than willing to help anybody who’s willing to help themselves.
Michael Santos: Thank you very much. I am Michael Santos, with Prison Professors and White Collar Advice. I am Justin’s partner. We are just really passionate about helping individuals get the best possible outcome. If you are going through a challenge with the criminal justice system, I hope that you will contact Justin Paperny. You can do so through the contact information right on the banner of this website. If you want more information, I hope that you visit our various websites, so that you can learn about steps that you can take to begin putting yourself on the best possible outcome, like Michael had, and we do hope that it’s an alternative sentence that keeps you out of the prison system. Back soon. Wishing you the best. Thank you.