Remember Charlie Engle, the guy who ran across the Sahara Desert a few years ago? He ran 4,300 miles across an inhospitable desert in just 111 days, averaging well over a marathon (38.74 miles) on every one.
What Charlie did not know was that this stunning feat would ultimately land him in federal prison, not for any crime he committed, but for someone else’s misdeeds.
I remember the day Charlie arrived. It was February 14th, Valentine’s Day, and his biggest concern was that he didn’t become someone’s “Valentine” his first night in prison. He came into the law library asking for someone to look over his case. I’d worked on about 300 such cases as law librarian by then, and agreed to help.
These guys generally fell in three categories of about equal portions. There were 1) those who belonged in prison, 2) those who may have done something, but not what the Feds made them plead guilty to doing and/or had their rights trashed beyond imagination in the process, and 3) the ones who really and truly did not belong there and were probably innocent. Charlie very matter-of-factly told me his story, which if true, put him in Category 3.
I have never yet reviewed a federal case where I could not find judicial and/or prosecutorial misconduct, so by then it should not have shocked me I guess, but Charlie’s case was over the top.
First of all, the federal government had no jurisdiction. Federal bank fraud statutes apply only to FDIC-insured banks, and none involved was federally insured. We even found a memo from IRS Agent Robert Nordlander to the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Kosky admitting this fact, yet they went ahead with the prosecution anyway. I suppose they expected to intimidate Charlie into pleading guilty as most eventually do out of fear, but this man who ran across deserts and continents for a living proved fearless.
More bizarre, Charlie was actually running across the Sahara Desert when the loan broker forged his signature and submitted the application. The U.S. Government’s own handwriting expert admitted that the signature could not be confirmed as Charlie’s and the initials were definitely in someone else’s hand, but the court ignored this.
We then found out that the same loan broker, loan officer, and property owner pled guilty to the crime they hung on Charlie, but this exculpatory evidence was knowingly withheld from the jury (and Charlie), in violation of federal law (Brady v. Maryland).
When we received the grand jury transcript, it got worse. The loan application only asked for “estimated” earnings for the application year, which Charlie gave as $180,000. Though he guessed in June what he would make by December, he was accurate within 1%. Without any “fraud” however, Agent Nordlander and AUSA Kosky had no case, so they orchestrated a lie to the grand jury. The Agent told the grand jury, under oath, that Charlie earned “a negative $26,000” for the year, while holding the documents proving his own perjury.
It gets worse. There was no “loss” as government claimed, to any institution. The transaction was a 10-31 tax-free exchange so it was Charlie’s own money he was getting back from a new owner, not a loan. Plus, no FDIC-insured bank was involved, so the government made one up.
Though never mentioned in the indictment or at trial and never lending Charlie a nickel, Agent Nordlander claimed that Bank of America, the biggest criminal enterprise in the whole mortgage scandal, was the institution the judge should order Charlie to pay “restitution” in the amount of $250,000.
Joe Nocera of the New York Times and other national writers picked up on this scandal, but no one in the federal judiciary was or is listening.
The judge who originally heard the case quit it to dodge our appeals as did the next two judges who received them. No court has ever addressed government’s lack of jurisdiction, government’s criminal conduct in the case, Charlie’s actual and provable innocence, or the fact that they forced him to pay restitution to a non-party who never loaned him a dime.
So Charlie did his time, though he committed no crime. He and I ran, wrote books about our adventures, and plotted life after prison while we waited on the courts to respond to his appeal, but none ever addressed the issues raised, as they would have to admit their error(s).
After running the gauntlet on appeals to the lower court, Charlie hired an attorney after his release to file to the Fourth Circuit. The Court sent his attorney the date by which the appeal must be filed and the attorney followed the Court’s Order, but it was immediately rejected. The Fourth Circuit put the wrong date on its order and then used that as an excuse for rejecting Charlie’s appeal as “untimely.”
I’ve seen so much of this judicial corruption now that I no longer get shocked, but I do worry for our nation and its future. We have the highest prison population on earth because of these bad government actors who know no restraint and pay no penalty for their crimes against We the People. Agent Nordlander is still working for the IRS, AUSA Kosky is still prosecuting cases, and the judge is still drawing his salary, while Charlie Engle has lost all of his endorsements, his running career, and will wear a “Scarlet F” on his chest for the rest of his life. That is horribly wrong but very common in America today.
I believe it is time we followed Sweden and 140 other nations that have created Offices and Courts of Ombudsman with the authority to 1) prosecute public officials who violate rights and Constitutional protections of the people, and 2) have the authority to grant unconditional relief to those so violated. A petition has been started calling on Congress to enact the necessary legislation to create such an Office/Court in every federal district.
Are you ready to take action for Charlie and the other 75 million Americans like him who now have “criminal” records? I hope so.
Born in North Carolina and educated at the University of Virginia, Wake Forest University and Caledonian University in Scotland, Howell now lives in Warsaw, Poland with his wife, Dr. Magdalena Iwaniec-Woltz writing, speaking and working for reform of the American system of justice, which now incarcerates more of its citizens than any nation on earth or in history.