Why you should care
Prison truth is stranger than prison fiction.
In 1996, my father, John Peter Galanis, was sent away to prison for 27 years. At the time I think it was the longest prison sentence for a white-collar criminal ever. Bernie Madoff changed the game subsequently, but nobody created the criminal mechanism that John had: a white-collar crime family. Deal by deal, fraud by fraud, we had become the Galanis crime family.
Our platform? Incubator Capital, IBTR, a classic stock manipulation fraud that was actually never charged by the criminal division of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a move that let us stay in business for another 15 years with our Gerova Financial, a securities scam that operated openly on the New York Stock Exchange, and involved a $60 million bond fraud. Now John awaits another federal trial while sitting in federal prison. And me? Well, like father, like son, sort of. I’m in federal custody and have never had a normal life or held a real job outside of teaching martial arts. I’m writing this on a Bureau of Prisons typewriter.
But at sentencing, the government was really reaching in their aggressive stance toward me, and they asked the judge to give me 20 years, the statutory maximum on the case. In an odd bit of luck, ecstasy was different than any other hard drug. Which under the sentencing guidelines and congressional mandate at the time would have been 10 to life in prison. But since mandatory minimums were already becoming increasingly suspect and politically unpopular, they never added one for ecstasy, and the possible downside maxed out at 20 years.
I shudder to think what they might have tried if not statutorily constrained. In any case, the sentence was completely unjust. Eleven years of incarceration built on innuendo, fabrications, bad appearances and government bullying, but that’s life. I had used all of my energies to protect my father and Tommy Gambino. Somewhere in my mind, I thought there would be reciprocation for my sacrifice, but I didn’t do it for that. I did it because that’s how I came up in life, and I thought it was the right thing to do.
So off I went on Con Air, shackled belly to wrist, and ankle to ankle. As you enter the plane, hobbling along the tarmac, the U.S. Marshals encircle the group of inmates in a swaggering, all business manner, each holding a shotgun at the ready. It’s a pretty dismal, yet surreal orchestration. Your life is no longer your life. Unable to eat properly while cuffed, or even wipe your own ass, I’m now headed to another detention center. Wrists and ankles scraped and burning from the metal cuffs.
Our first stop was Oklahoma City, the Federal Transfer Center. It’s not that the Oklahoma holding facility is particularly bad. It’s just that transit is the worst part of the incarceration experience. It’s the sense of the unknown, the lack of familiarity that regular prisons provide.
…if you are a particularly aggressive inmate, or otherwise present the Bureau of Prisons with any difficulty, they cure that with something called “Diesel Therapy.”
Plus transit-while-incarcerated is intensely grueling, consisting of being shackled for up to 12 hours or more per day, eating cold sack meals, sleeping in cold county jail holding cells, waking at 4 a.m., being reshackled and having to wait in another holding cell for the bus to show up. Repeat as often as necessary.
And if you are a particularly aggressive inmate, or otherwise present the Bureau of Prisons with any difficulty, they cure that with something called “Diesel Therapy.” This is where your transit back and forth across the United States never ends until they have broken you mentally, so you are not a threat.
But I ended up finally in Sandstone, Minnesota. The first thing that shocked me was the prison demographics, which were 30 percent white, 30 percent Black, 30 percent Latino and 10 percent Native American. In San Diego, where I had spent two years, it was 90 percent Mexican, so you can imagine the adjustment. Not that it was bad. Most of the Mexicans that I did time with were great people. It was just initially odd not seeing a Mexican inmate 9 out of 10 times a day.
The first thing I needed to do though was find a job. My initial thought was to go to the law library, and it was a good move. I was still fighting my case on appeal, so I needed access to the legal books required to be in every federal prison. And in any prison, if there are a group of smart guys, you will find them there. Fortunately for me, Sandstone had plenty of smart people.
My first day, I met another fraudster, Gary Lefkowitz. The guy had many of the usual qualities of fraud guys, but his particular emphasis was on control through intellectual bullying. I also made two lifelong friends there. The first one was Nigerian, Pius Ailemen. Anyone who goes to federal prison can tell you that Nigerians are there for one of two crimes: fraud or heroin. In fact, the term “419 scam” is named from the Nigerian criminal code for such conduct.
My friend was not a fraudster, or rather, my friend was not convicted of fraud. He was actually the ultimate fraudster who happened to be a drug dealer, and he occupied an interesting niche in the field. Since both a kilo of heroin and a kilo of cocaine in its indigenous nation costs about $2,000, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you can get them to the U.S. and Europe, respectively, your markup is astronomical. And that is what my friend did: He was a smuggler of sorts.
My other friend in our little group was a Russian Jew named Boris Lev, from St. Petersburg. His family came over when he was very young, and settled in Chicago. As such, he was always at ease around Black inmates, and less so around whites. But no one ever scared him. Coincidentally he was also a convicted heroin smuggler.
But in the middle of my sentence, my only solace is that there is an Ultimate Judge who runs the world and in the end, only the fortitude and discipline and persistence developed in martial arts gave me the strength to stand up. I am now able to tell my story in the hope that others learn from my path and choose to make better, healthier life decisions.
This is an excerpt from Derek Meyer Galanis’ memoir, Greed and Fear: The Galanis Crime Family. He will be released from prison, barring further incident, in November 2021. He will be 49 years old.