Interview James Settembrino

james settembrino
James Settembrino is Joey Settembrino's father. In an attempt to obtain a lower sentence for his son, James Settembrino tried to assist prosecutors by providing information about other drug dealers.

If you've got someone who's in a federal prison right now that's serving time for an offense and that offense is less than five years on the drug market, then he's a snitch. Do you remember your reaction when you found out your son had been arrested?

... I'll never forget that night when I got that first telephone call as he was in jail for the first evening. It was rather a quick telephone call and the shriekingness will live with me till I die probably, because all he said was, "I'm here, get me out, I'll never be able to do 10 years," and broke down for the first time and the phone went dead. That's all he said to me. I'll never forget that. ...

At first I didn't believe it, and then shock set in. ... And then I said, "Well, I've got to call over there, find out. Have Herb go over there right now and find out what the bond is and let's get him out." And Herb would be Herb Cohen, who was a friend of mine and an attorney. And, of course, he did and told me that it was a $500,000 bond. And I said, "Okay, let's get him out."

How did you feel about Joey and drugs?

During that period of time, I'm not sure what he was really into, although we've had our differences back and forth. ... I didn't really accept the fact that he had anything to do with drugs because he was brought up not to have anything to do with drugs. He [had worked in] an office that we had [where] most of the people that worked in there were abusers who had now entered programs and that were not taking any drugs. So he heard the drug stories on a continual basis every day, not to fool with drugs. So I really did not believe that he had anything to do with drugs ... .

He was out on bond, then what?

Well, first thing was he got out. And then after he got out, [we] found out what the charges were. He had gone to a public defender, at first, to represent him. And of course then I intervened and said, "You can't have a public defender, you've got to get an attorney." So I got an attorney for him. And ... the attorney told me, he says, "Jim, you don't want to hear this, but he's in bad shape here. He could go to jail for 30 years." I says, "Thirty years, are you crazy? ... He's 18 years old. How can someone go to jail for 30 years for selling drugs?" He said, "Well, this is a federal offense. It's not a state offense. There's a whole different ball game federally. ... "

So Joey was set up?

You're never sure, but evidently this confidential informant had loaned him some money [in order] to make a car payment. And, of course, he didn't pay him back in time. And he said, "Well, there's a way to make some money." "What's that?" So the kid proposed that he went to another friend of his who he said he knew had something and if he would buy it for him, he'd give him the money and also at the same time he wouldn't have to pay back the money that he borrowed for the car payment. That's the way I recall of how it began. And of course he, being the boisterous type of person ... he played the part and did what the kid wanted him to do. "You get on the phone, you tell me this, you tell me that." And he did all of that. So the agents, at that particular point as he was being set up, probably thought they were really dealing with someone who was dealing with all kinds of drugs, unbeknownst to them that he had never dealt with any drugs. ...

What happened to the snitch?

Well, I don't think he spent any time in jail, pretty much sure of that because I've seen him in the neighborhood. Two, three years after my son was in jail I still continue to see him. In fact one evening I went to a bowling alley and it was about 12:30, 1:00 at night and stopped in the bowling alley with my wife. And went in to the bathroom and there he was. And of course he was in a bathroom stall taking some drugs and selling them to someone else, which I actually saw, [and] I couldn't believe it. But he's still out. ...

Why did they want Joey?

... They don't care who they arrest. They're interested in convictions. It doesn't make any difference who it is as long as they get convictions. The public wants that. ... The public wants to know that the drug dealers are the cause of all their evils and that as long as you make type, newspaper type putting them in jail, that's what they want. They don't care who it is.

I really don't think they just wanted Joey; they wanted anyone who they could get. They have confidential informants out there and those are people who've been arrested. They work for the government. They go out and they'll set up anybody they can. They'll actually come to people and say, "Here's what you have to do, you go here, go over here, you buy these drugs, I'll give you this, I'll give you that."

How do you know?

I've seen it. They asked me to do it. I know firsthand. That's what they wanted me to do. ...

Did Joey offer to snitch?

... When we were standing outside the courtroom on the first appearance, naturally the prosecutor was there and Joseph's attorney was there and also the agents who arrested him. And of course the agents were the first ones who said that there's a way to get yourself nearly out of this. "You're facing 30 years in jail, but if you come in and you help us, and you cooperate with us by going out and working and setting up and buying drugs so we can get convictions, we're going to recommend to the court what is known as a 5K1 reduction which enables you to bypass the guidelines and go underneath the guidelines. And now the judge will listen to whatever the prosecutor has to say and reduce your sentence by 70-80%."

What did Joey say?

Well at first he was ... very apprehensive about doing anything because he said, "I can't do that, I don't know anybody, I can't do it." And of course after several months of realizing that he is going to go to jail, I tried to convince him that here's the three options you have. You can plead guilty, do 121 to 151 months. You can go work for the government. They're going to reduce you down to about 21 or 23, 24 months, or you can get on a plane and fly to Europe and never come back. Those are your only three choices. Now you have to tell me which one you want to do. And, of course, he couldn't come up with answer as to which one he wanted to do. He says, "Well, I don't want to leave the country, I don't want to leave my family. I don't want to go to jail, but I don't want to snitch on anybody, because I don't know how and I don't know how to deal with drugs. I don't know anybody ... ." He couldn't come up with anything ... . And after a while he just refused to. He says, "Look what you've gone through. ... Look what my mother's gone through. Look what my sisters are going through. Look what our family's going through, all because of me. And now we're going to have the same thing happen to someone else?" And he just didn't want to do that. He didn't want to have what was happening to us happen to someone else. And he was very, very much opposed to it.

How did you get involved?

... The government contacted me and said, "There's other ways that can help your son." "Well, what's the other ways?" "Well, you go do something. ... If you can do this, find people that have drugs and purchase drugs from them, we'll act favorably in giving your son a 5K1 reduction." And I said, "Well, why would you do that?" "You want your son to get reduced, right?" I said, "Yes." "We want convictions and that's why we do it." So at that particular point I had them send a letter to my attorney ... stipulating that.

Stipulating what?

Stipulating that he would recommend a 5K1 reduction for my son if I went out and did substantial assistance by implicating and arresting people who were dealing in drugs. ...

Did they know you weren't involved?

Oh, they knew that all the time. They knew that I wasn't, but they said that even though you're not, it doesn't really make a difference, these people are interested in money. And you know nothing's ever going to happen, I mean, nobody's going to get hurt. I says, "Well don't people get killed when they do this?" They said, "Oh no, that never happens, don't worry about that." "Well, what happens when you set somebody else up, do they come after you afterwards?" "Oh, that'll never happen, don't worry about that either." They made it sound like it was just an easy thing to do. ...

You did it?

I tried to. ... I tried to find people who were dealing in drugs by finding people who were using drugs. And once I found someone who was using drugs, then naturally it wasn't very hard to find out ... where they frequented, to where they were getting the drugs from. But I guess I've got a symbol on me that says I'm not a drug user, so it was very, very difficult. No one would sell to me. [There were] many, many occasions that I tried to, but they just looked at me like you're the wrong type, you don't look the part, something's wrong. I never was able to make a single sale, even for $10 worth of drugs, let along $10,000. ...

So after I failed I spoke with the agents and they made tape recordings of some calls that we made. ... And then after that I met a fellow in New York, a very innovative person, who had been through this with his daughter. And he had seen the agony in me and had talked with me. ... He says, "I know what they want. ... They'll accept something that you do to get somebody convicted or arrested for using drugs and that can get your son out. ... That happened to me, too. ... I went out and did something and I've got some good connections." I says, "And you can help?" And he said, "Yes, but it'll cost you." "So how much will it cost?" "Well, I'll have to make some calls, I'll be back with you in a couple of days." [He] called back and it was $70,000. At that time I didn't have $70,000, but I did have a house, so I mortgaged it. And they flew into town. I gave the money to buy the drugs. Made the arrangements with the agents to be involved with the deal, took him to that office ... where the DEA agents were. And we began. And next couple of days we had everything all set up.

Why did you do it?

... The attorneys had told me that if we went to trial, he could face as many as few as 27 years, as much as 35 years. And that by not going to trial, we were literally guaranteed 10 years as a minimum. And that if we gave substantial assistance, worked with the government, we could downgrade that through a 5K1 reduction to about 21, 22 months is what we were looking at. ...

How much money was involved?

It cost me. I would say that over a year and a half period with everything that I did, and that's not talking about the wages that I lost when I didn't work, but just out of pocket cash, actual green dollars, well over a $150,000. And that doesn't count the legal fees either.

What was the plan?

... I had such a guilt-ridden situation after my son said to me, "Dad, this is not right for you to do this." He didn't want me to do anything. He said, "This is not right, you're going to put someone through the same thing that we've gone through." So the last attempt was really one that was going to be something that I could not have to worry about hurting anyone, because that man was coming in here from another country. He knew what he was doing when he was coming here. He knew he was going to get arrested. And he knew he was going to bond out 'cause I was going to bond him out. And he knew he wasn't going to go to jail, because as soon as he bonded out, he was gone. So they got their drugs and I paid for those ... but that one never took place ... .

Did the prosecutor know the details?

No. He didn't know all of them, he knew that there was going to be some five [kilos] of cocaine involved in it. And that there was going to be a buy of it and that he was going to make an arrest ... .

Why didn't it work?

At around five minutes till five--this was supposed to take place between five and five-thirty--James Boma called my son's attorney David Bogenschutz, and David called me from his car phone and said, "Jim, we got a problem." I said, "What's the problem?" He said, "Well, the problem is that Mr. Boma is unhappy ... with my filing. And I got him on the other line right now." So Boma got on the other phone and he just started screaming at me. He said, "The deal is off, the deal is off. You got nothing, you're not doing a thing, you're not getting any help and I don't care if your son stays in jail for 20 years, we got no deal. Finished." And he hung up the phone on me.


Because Bogenschutz had filed, which he had to, ... these papers trying to get a downward motion. [And Boma said that he's] now going to have to have a staff work about two weeks just to answer the briefs. I says, "Well, isn't that your job? I mean, my attorney has to do his job, what's that have to do with our deal? If he didn't do this, he's unable to do it at a later date, it has to be filed now. Why are you taking such offense?" "We got no deal, we got no deal, I'm not doing it, I'm not helping you, you're not helping me. You shouldn't have had him file that. We had deals working, now we got no deal. ..." He took offense to the fact that we filed a motion and he didn't want to answer that motion. So that was the end of that. I lost my money cause I already paid the money. And that was the last thing that I did.

How did you feel about the fact that you were trying to set someone up?

I don't think you have a point where you have thoughts about what you're doing. I would kind of think that it's something like in the ocean, if you're drowning and a matchstick goes by, you tend to want to hold onto it even though it can't help you. Well, basically the same thing [happened] here. When you have your son or your daughter who's sitting in a federal prison and you bring your family there to see him, and you can't sit there for longer than 15 minutes without breaking down for just the sight of seeing your own in jail under those circumstances, it just leads you to do anything. You just grasp for whatever's there, even if it's right or if it's wrong, you don't really think too much about it. I know I didn't think too much about it. I have a lot of second thoughts now, but I didn't think too much about it at that time. It was just, "It's got to be done, otherwise he's going to spend the rest of his life in jail, he's going to come out a criminal." ...

Are you angry?

Yes, very angry. ... I'm not sure who I'm more angry at, if I'm more angry at myself, my son, or the government. ... Probably myself the most and then secondly the government. I'm angry at the government for allowing myself, in particular, or even my son, to go out and put themselves in harm's way. I had no knowledge whatsoever of how to do this. I didn't know what to do. ...

Is there a lesson in all this?

The lesson here is that if you are a low person on the pole, someone who really has not involved themselves with drugs and you're dealing in any type [of] quantity, you're going to do the time for the guy above you and you're going to stay in jail. The real drug dealers don't go to jail. What they do is they have enough money to hire good attorneys, to make deals and to go out and set up everyone below them. So they'll get their reductions because they can turn around and have the ability to put someone in that spot. Where someone at the bottom of that pole has no ability, he's going to rot in jail, he's going to do his time. The real drug dealers don't do time.

But the idea behind these laws was the opposite.

Right. The reason for minimum mandatories is from Nancy Reagan. She insisted upon minimum mandatories. Let's put harsher penalties on drug dealers. It was a great thought, it really was, but they left no avenue for escape for those that were caught. ... If you do this, the judge only can give you the minimum or the maximum or something in between. So he has no discretion and those penalties are severe.

So the only safety valve is snitching?

That's the only safety valve. Anyone who has a 5K1 reduction is a snitch. They've done something for the government to warrant [a departure] from those guidelines and the only thing they can do is to be a confidential informant. So if you've got someone who's in a federal prison right now that's serving time for an offense and that offense is less than five years on the drug market, then he's a snitch. ...

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