visit with Karen (Lucchesi) Lewis
by Nelson Thibodeaux
It had been about five months since Karen Lucchesi heard her fate at the hands of Federal Judge John McBryde. Lucchesi had been convicted in the one-day “rocket docket” courtroom of McBryde for one count of money laundering for $20,000.
However, during sentencing, she ended up taking the rap for an additional $500,000 of money laundering. That is the amount her lawyer Anand Alloju pled guilty to laundering. As it appears now, Alloju copped the plea primarily to protect his wife Lisa Alloju, a psychiatrist in Fort Worth. It is believed that Lisa Alloju had actually handled the $20,000 in question and deposited the funds into various accounts.
Alloju received three years, less one year off when he completed his cocaine addiction course and Lucchesi suddenly was faced with a sentence that could be as long as 151 months. McBryde handed down a 78-month sentence. McBryde said it was, "the court's opinion that lesser involvement by Lucchesi merited a downward departure. McBryde said, "I think she knew what she was doing but I am concerned about the influence her attorney had in this matter." Judge McBryde said that Lucchesi could voluntarily surrender herself to the Federal Marshals by 2 PM, January 30, 2004.
I had written a series of articles about Lucchesi during her trial and sentencing. After Karen surrendered herself for prison, Lucchesi’s mom, Kathy, brought by personal information sheets. My wife Jamie and I completed the questions to be submitted to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The personal data must be submitted and “approved” before being
able to visit an inmate in a federal prison. Only individuals who have been notified they are approved to visit may enter the prison facility. Karen is incarcerated at the Federal Medical Correctional facility at Carswell in Fort Worth.
Visiting days are Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. However, Kathy had advised that weekends could require hours of waiting to be processed before being allowed inside to visit. On June 21st, Kathy and Karen’s brother Bryan joined Jamie and myself on our first trek to visit Karen.
We took two vehicles, following Bryan off the 820 Loop down some back streets before we finally arrived at what appeared to be a back gate on a two lane asphalt road. The first thing you are struck by is that the facility is not a college campus atmosphere. In fact, the prison is about ½ mile from the road secured by razor wire and redundant fencing.
Kathy said that we really lucked out because when we arrived around 4:30 pm there were only five cars. She said on “family” days, that relatives sometimes wait 4 to 5 hours in line for processing only to be told that no more visitors would be allowed that day.
At promptly 5 PM an armed female guard opened a swing gate to allow the cars to pass. To the immediate left is a temporary building similar to one that would be on a construction site. You present your driver’s license and proof of insurance to the guard at the gate then park next to the building. You are required to complete additional paperwork given to you by the guard whereby you swear that you understand the rules of entering the prison and admit to any past criminal action of your own. Regardless of the amount of times you have visited the facility, one is required to complete the same paperwork each and every time.
Bryan had alerted us to a number of rules, especially of things you could not bring inside. For example, including the obvious things like knives etc., none of the following items are allowed: wallet, pencil, pen, notepad, camera, cell phone, gum, remove jewelry, and limit money in your pocket to $20.
After you park, you wait in line again to enter the on-site trailer. Upon entry you provide the just completed paperwork to another guard who checks you against a computer. Shortly before entering, one individual who had obviously been waiting for some time, was denied entry and left the area. The guard then stamped our hands with some invisible ink and then told Jamie to get rid of the gum. While pleasant enough, one got the impression that this big fellow was used to telling people what to do. Kathy had already cleared the hurdles and was on her way to see her daughter in her car, while Bryan stayed with us to guide us through the process.
Once cleared you drive through the old naval barracks and circle around about 1.5 miles to the front entrance of the facility. Upon entry into this facility you are met at another check point and metal detector. The individuals immediately in front of us were also subject to a device that could determine any types of residue on their person.
After dumping change out of my pocket, taking off my watch, removing my ring, taking my glasses out of my pocket, taking off my shoes and my belt, on the fourth pass through I was finally determined clean enough to enter. Jamie, on the other hand, had removed all jewelry; at least she thought, but the unsuspected toe ring was the culprit that kept setting off the alarms. Since she couldn’t get it off, the guard finally relented and passed our group to the next guard.
This guard led us through the traditional clanging heavy bar doors chamber where they checked our stamped hands under ultra violet light. Only then did the second bar doors open where the guard led us through an enclosed courtyard to a building that looked like the waiting area at a 1950 bus station.
Karen, in brown khaki pants, khaki shirt and white sneakers was sitting talking to her mom. We hugged and began our visit of about an hour and half. We would come to find out that Karen’s attire was actually her dressed up look, normally worn was one of her two prison khaki pants and an issued t-shirt everyday.
The first thing that Karen always takes advantage, when being visited, is the opportunity to get something from the vending machines in the room. Visitors cannot give her any money, however, they can purchase something from the vending machines to be consumed by her only during the visit.
Karen said the prison budget for three meals a day per inmate was $2.84. She indicated that typically she does not eat the somewhat adventurous looking meat with the meals. However, commissary items are very expensive and the inmates are limited to $300 per month for all needs. Her family must supply the $300 in her prison account. Out of these funds, the prison charges $60 per month for local telephone calls and $25 per month service fee.
Karen had just had a birthday on June 2nd and she said a group of the inmates saved up their fruit from each day to make a fruit salad. Brownies had been saved and topped with jelly for the birthday cake. She compared having a grapefruit inside the prison facility would be like receiving a $1,000 gift on the outside.
She described her room as having two bunk beds with 4 inmates in each cell with barely enough room between the bunks to walk. There are 250 prisoners in the facility with a shower area and 8 stainless steel toilets all located in an open room. She said there certainly is no privacy and before entering the visitor’s room Karen is subject to a complete strip search. After visiting, she is again subject to a strip search before returning to her cell.
With a limit of two pairs of Bureau Of Prison (BOP) issued socks, two pants, two t-shirts, one pair of shorts and one button up brown shirt (saved for visiting time) there is no question what she is going to wear each day.
The cultural shock for this woman, just turning 39 in prison, would be enough to cause most people to want to curl up in a fetal position and go into a dark depression. Especially considering, in this case, where the individual has been as treated as unfairly as Karen.
Karen has put together an aerobics program for the large number of handicapped women at the facility. The program became so popular that she now has 50 women with various disabilities in her program along with classes for other able body inmates. She teaches 14 classes, 7 days a week and her curriculum has adopted by the BOP. Karen does become upset when she sees elderly inmates being disrespected and treated harshly by others.
Placed in the medical facility as a result of her Lupus disease, Karen does not receive the extensive and expensive treatments she had in the previous years. Regardless, Karen exhibits great strength in her effort to keep the immediately family from becoming even more distraught over the circumstances.
According to Karen, potentially the most disappointing aspect of her experience has been the feeling of abandonment. She spent years being active in the community, donating thousands of dollars to charities and always being available to assist organizations like the area chamber.
Karen recounted one incident in particular. Karen was gathering letters to be presented to the judge concerning her character and community standing before the sentencing hearing. Karen contacted Ret Stansberger, President of the Colleyville Area Chamber of Commerce. “Considering the amount of time, effort and money I donated to the chamber over the years, I felt comfortable in calling Ret and asking her for a one page letter of reference.” When she didn’t receive the letter, and the time limit was running out, Karen again made a personal call to Stansberger to remind her about the letter. Karen said she couldn’t believe her ears when Stansberger told her that she “didn’t think it would be appropriate” and hung up.
Karen said she was hurt that many of those that claimed to be her closest friends rejected her plea for help and now seem to have forgotten her. She recounts the incident with frankness but there is no sense of bitterness or anger. She says the whole episode has helped her focus on what really is important, “God and family in that order”, said Karen. “ I was so involved in my businesses that I didn’t have time for other things,” she said. “There are those that are users and those that are sincere, I now clearly understand the difference,” she continued. On other hand, Karen said that she has received support and help from many friends and that, “I have made new friends through this ordeal that care about me as a person, not because they want something,” Karen concluded.
Karen doesn’t have time to worry about her social status in Colleyville. The entire focus is on her appeal being handled by New Orleans attorney Julian Murray, Jr. Murray, an experienced attorney has practiced many years in front of the Federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. He has filed a Brief asking that the Court of Appeals grant Karen a new trial, or at minimum a reduction in her sentence.
The Northern District U.S. Attorney’s office is expected to respond to the Brief the first week of July. Murray has volunteered to waive the verbal arguments, because of the delay in being heard by the court, and based on his confidence that case law supports his request.
The legal Brief filed by Murray highlights a number of issues that Karen was not afforded a fair trial based on a number of issues. Reading the Brief one is struck that, while there is ample reference to various cases and legal rulings, the position taken by Murray is, for the most part, just plain common sense. Most readers would assume that, in a trial involving the possibility of spending years in a federal prison, the defendant would have every opportunity to present all evidence that could assist one’s case for vindication. That simply did not happen in the federal trial of Karen Lucchesi Lewis.
It is also understandable that jurors are likely to be swayed by the testimony of a federal agent. This is the case especially when there is critical evidence not allowed to be heard that would dispute the agent’s recollection of events. In this case, there were two critical meetings between the DEA agent, Karen and Alloju. Both of these meetings were secretly recorded both on video and audio by the DEA agent. The agent testified that he explained in clear, concise terms the circumstances surrounding his alleged relationship with Alloju, in particular that money was being laundered from cocaine and marijuana sold in the US brought up from Mexico.
This being the case, one would suspect the agent and government prosecutors would be eager to play these tapes for the jury. First the federal judge agreed to allow the jury only to hear the audio, and not allow the video. The tape recorder was to be supplied by the U.S. Attorney’s office. However, when it came time to present the tapes for the jury, according to Murray’s Brief, the U.S. Attorney’s office said they weren’t sure the recorder actually would work correctly. The judge then ruled that he wasn’t going to delay the trial waiting around for a working audio tape recorder and instructed the defense to present their argument without the benefit of the actual recorded event. Thereafter, the transcript, presented by the prosecution, was deemed by the judge to be the correct and accurate recounting of what was actually heard on the tape or video.
The jury only heard the agent’s version of events, along with Alloju who had made himself a sweetheart deal. The jury never saw the video or even heard the first tape.
Murray contends that if the jury had in fact been allowed to actually see and hear the evidence that the decision would have most likely been very different. Local News Only has obtained a copy of the Department of Justice audio and video in this case. The audio is so poor that it was impossible to put in a digital format to be heard over the Internet. It is incomprehensible how a jury would have easily agreed that the tape recordings actually matched the government’s transcript, given a chance to hear the tape.
On the other hand, the video clearly shows Alloju writing checks and making statements that would have been certainly given a jury reason to pause. The jury must convict “beyond a reasonable doubt”, that doubt, in this author’s opinion, would have likely been placed if the jury has view the videotapes. The Department of Justice videotapes in the process of being made into a digital format and will be made available to viewers of LocalNewsOnly.com the week of July 12th.
There are other more technical aspects of the Brief having to do with the defense attorney’s failure to adequately object to other rulings by the court that were equally to Karen’s disadvantage.
Concerning the sentencing of Karen to 78 months in federal prison, Murray writes,
“That draconian stretch was based upon the relevant conduct provisions of the sentencing guidelines and a brief reference in the transcript where the undercover agent said next time they would do “500”. The trial judge concluded that that meant that Ms. Lewis was agreeing to launder $500,000 of drug money.” When in fact there was one “cryptic” reference on the audiotape about “500” supposedly followed by a “yeah” by Ms. Lewis.
The court ignored the fact that most of the accounts that upon which Alloju wrote on (belonging to Karen’s business) were actually closed accounts and that clearly indicates it is more probable that Karen was never a knowing participant in the transaction.
In his Brief, Murray wrote the following, “It is perhaps to be expected of appellate court judges that all of their evaluations be cool and deliberate eschewed of any emotion. However, if there is ever any legitimate capacity for outrage, it should be stirred by this case. A lady who in all likelihood is not guilty is serving a sentence of six and a half years. With her advanced stage of terminal lupus that is probably a life sentence. Her lawyer and trusted friend who turned out to be a crook and a liar is serving three years and his wife goes free, as a result of him implicating Ms. Lewis. Her day in court – literally-was only a pale semblance of what a fair trail should be, with her defender utterly and totally failing to protect the record that he had to know she would desperately need in this Court. Appellant’s conviction should be reversed and the case remanded for a new trial before a different judge. In the alternative, at the very least the case should be remanded for resentencing based upon the $20,000 figure, not $500,000.”
The conduct and outcome of this trial should offend anyone that believes that the accused should have the opportunity to receive an adequate defense and be allowed to put on an adequate defense in a federal courtroom. Local News Only will continue to follow the development of this case.
If you would like to write to Karen and give her encouragement, you may write her as follows:
Reg. No. 29130177
Federal Medical Center, Carswell
PO Box 27137
Ft. Worth, Texas 76127.