Former Dewey & LeBoeuf chief financial officer Joel Sanders was led out of a New York courtroom in handcuffs Thursday after a judge found he willfully failed to pay the first installment on a $1 million fine for his felony conviction.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Robert Stolz ordered Sanders into custody after shooting down a bid from the former Dewey executive and his defense lawyer, DLA Piper partner Christopher Oprison, to have the $1 million fine reduced or revoked.
Sanders, who joined Greenspoon Marder as chief operating officer in 2012, owes the penalty on his felony conviction in a scheme to defraud Dewey’s investors and lenders before its collapse the same year. His sentence included three years of conditional discharge requiring him to pay the fine in three annual installments and 750 hours of community service.
In court papers filed last month, Oprison argued Sanders couldn’t pay without putting himself and his family in dire financial straits.
But at the hearing, Stolz noted Sanders owns outright a house in Long Island worth at least $650,000 and has about $850,000 in equity on an oceanfront condominium in Sunny Isles Beach worth around $1 million. The judge also noted Sanders and his wife lease “two high-end cars” — an Audi and a Mercedes-Benz.
“I find the defendant willfully failed to pay his fine,” the judge said Thursday. “I find the claimed inability to pay here not credible.”
In light of the ruling, Sanders can be jailed for up to a year until he pays the full $1 million fine. He is now in the custody of the New York Department of Corrections. That order was in line with Sanders’ original sentence, which said the former Dewey CFO “shall be imprisoned for one year until the fine is satisfied” if he failed to pay, the judge said.
Court officers took the former Dewey executive, who was wearing a dark blue suit, out of the courtroom in handcuffs as two family members looked on.
Reached for comment afterward, Oprison said his client was looking for a way to pay the fine in short order.
“It’s a travesty,” Oprison said about Stolz’s ruling. “I think it’s completely unjust. This is the last person you want to put away and send away in prison, and I think it’s really unfortunate it came to this.”
He added, “We’re going to try to pay.”
Before ruling, Stolz heard arguments from Oprison and Assistant District Attorney Peirce Moser, chief of the tax crimes unit at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the lead prosecutor on the Dewey fraud case against Sanders and other former law firm executives.
The latest hearing originally was scheduled as a check-in roughly a year after Sanders received his sentence in October 2017. But Oprison urged the judge to revoke or reduce the $1 million fine. Sanders was unable to pay the first-year installment of $333,333 “despite best efforts to earn, raise, generate or borrow the funds to do so,” Oprison said in court papers filed in October.
Reiterating that argument Thursday, Oprison told Stolz that Sanders would have liked a “de minimis” reduction to $250,000. Sanders completed 340 hours of community service and was not seeking any adjustment on that piece of his sentence.
Oprison said Sanders has had trouble accessing mainstream banks since his felony conviction and doesn’t have a clear path to turn his holdings into cash for his fine.
“This is not an individual who’s not making an effort,” Oprison said. “The practicality is these are not liquid assets.”
Those arguments were met with forceful opposition from Moser and skeptical questions from Stolz. Moser argued Sanders likely could have paid the fine at any point since his sentencing but at the very least has the assets to pay the first $333,333 installment.
Sanders reported his 2018 salary was $375,000.
“He’s failed to explain why he did not set aside money” to satisfy the fine, said Moser.
The prosecutor, whose office filed court papers last week opposing Sanders’ request for a reduced fine, told Stolz that the former Dewey CFO missed his first deadline and asked for the reduction six weeks after the deadline passed.
Stolz appeared unpersuaded by Oprison’s argument that Sanders couldn’t pay. The judge took part of the hearing to run through Sanders’ assets, including his salary at Greenspoon Marder, his homes, the leased cars and securities holdings.
“It’s kind of adding up here, counsel,” the judge told Oprison.
In light of his finding that Sanders willfully neglected his obligation to pay the fine, the judge ultimately said he could have resentenced the former Dewey executive altogether and an altered sentence could have included a term of confinement. Stolz, however, said he was not going that far and would keep the original sentence in place.
“This is someone who could be simply locked up on this record,” said Stolz. “I’m not doing that.”
A spokeswoman for Greenspoon Marder did not immediately respond to a request for comment. While Sanders works there, the firm was not involved in the criminal case.
— Additional reporting contributed by Christine Simmons