This prisoner was punished for calling the FBI about sex crimes

Of all the injustices in America’s scandal-ridden prison system, this one stands out: A man given a longer sentence – during which he contracted COVID-19 and was trapped in solitary confinement – for trying to help the federal government prosecute an underage sex trafficking case.

When the FBI was investigating the alleged sex crimes of a young, wealthy Republican operative in Minnesota last year, it confided in an old friend: a former Los Angeles porn gambler who was serving in federal prison for drug trafficking.

Unbeknownst to this GOP operative, Anton Lazzaro, his pal was actually completely disgusted with the way he bragged about preying on teenage girls. From a prison in rural Florida, Lazzaro’s friend Benjamin Freedland memorized details that amounted to a confession, noted examples of his friend’s past predations, and urgently tried to get in touch with the FBI.

But Freedland couldn’t get through the FBI field office switchboard in Minneapolis. Inmate calls work like collect calls: the person who picks up has to dial a button to accept it. So instead he phoned a friend outside the prison walls and asked him to call the feds on three.

For this act of ingenuity, Freedland was sentenced to an additional month behind bars, according to disciplinary records obtained by The Daily Beast.

And during that extended period, he fell ill with COVID-19 and developed symptoms, according to a family member.

“It’s like calling 9-1-1 to report a crime and then going to jail,” Freedland said by phone earlier this month. “It only highlights the injustice of offenses for which we should not be punished. Even the officers here in this prison think it is outrageous.

For sharing documents about his punishment with this reporter, Freedland expected further retaliation – in the form of solitary confinement in a “special housing unit” while being locked 24 hours a day in a smaller cell .

“I will go into the USD with a smile on my face,” he said then.

Days after that call, Freedland was reportedly forced into solitary confinement, a move he called “a rash attempt to silence me.” Freedland described his situation in a letter he apparently dropped and sent to a friend.

“My placement in solitary confinement is entirely retaliatory and proves gross misconduct by my prison and the BOP as a whole,” Freedland wrote in a signed letter dated and postmarked Tuesday.

Both the Bureau of Prisons and Federal Correctional Institution in Marianna, Fla., declined to confirm whether Freedland had been placed in solitary confinement or to answer questions about the situation.

“For reasons of confidentiality, safety and security, we do not release information about the conditions of an inmate’s detention, to include disciplinary history or medical information,” said Emery Nelson, spokesperson for the prison agency.

FCI Marianna would also not make its acting director, Charles Harrison, available for an interview.

The US prison system’s frequent use of isolating prisoners in small, windowless cells has been under attack for years and was described by a United Nations human rights expert in 2020 as akin to many psychological torture.

Courtesy of Daniel Freedland

Freedland was sentenced in 2016 to seven years in prison for having a firearm while smuggling cannabis from California to Pennsylvania. But he was to be released in December. He had hoped to spend the holidays with his family. His scheduled release has since been pushed back to February 4.

“It’s terrible,” said her father, Daniel Freedland, a professor at Loyola Marymount University. “It makes you feel bad knowing there’s nothing you can do. He’s a very strong-willed guy, and when he feels something is unfair, he’s going to do whatever he can to make it fair. Sometimes he forgets he’s in jail. They are responsible, not him. Like it or not, those are their rules.

The Minneapolis FBI did not respond to a request for comment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment. And a lawyer for Lazzaro did not respond to questions sent Friday.

Freedland told The Daily Beast of his repeated failed attempts to reach the FBI and expressed frustration that investigators have yet to respond. Freedland claims Lazzaro turned to him after the FBI raided the budding playboy’s Minneapolis apartment in December 2020. He described feeling baffled by the way Lazzaro called him on the phone and admitted his encounters with teenage girls – and his alleged preference for younger ones – on a phone line that was obviously taped by the prison. At the time, the FBI was quietly investigating how Lazzaro allegedly targeted teenagers and took them to his apartment.

Realizing that federal agents might need more evidence, Freedland began to piece together everything he knew about his former friend and business partner, such as how Lazzaro allegedly tried to use Freedland’s connections in the drug industry. porn to hook up with young girls. He also kept a list of potential witnesses, such as Lazzaro’s ex-girlfriends. He claims to have informed the prison guards and asked to be put in touch with the FBI, but nothing came of it.

Anton Lazzaro with Donald Trump

When The Daily Beast reported Lazzaro’s arrest and indictment in August on charges of child sex trafficking, federal prosecutors at the Minnesota U.S. Attorney’s Office appealed for help.

“Based on the evidence obtained in this investigation, authorities believe there may be other victims of the alleged conduct. Anyone with information about this is encouraged to call the Minneapolis FBI Division at 763- 569-8000,” a press release said.

The following month, on September 14 at 10:35 a.m., Freedland grew impatient and asked his friend in Chicago to call the FBI on his behalf. The Daily Beast spoke to the friend, who asked not to be identified and described the call exactly as described in prison disciplinary records.

“Can you help me reach a number?” Freedland asked him, providing him with the FBI Minneapolis contact.

His friend hooked up the main line to the FBI office, then put his iPhone on his desk. When he checked a minute later, the call was dead.

Freedland never reached an FBI special agent. But that evening, a “communications controller” at the prison facility listened to a recording of the call and filed a formal complaint.

The next day, Freedland received a written notification that he had broken rule number 297, “telephone abuse interrupt monitoring”, which is when a prison guard cannot know which number has been called. (Even though Freedland dictated the number to call.) At a disciplinary hearing two weeks later, documents show Freedland openly admitted what he had done but maintained, “I don’t think I’m guilty. .”

The facility’s chief psychologist, Dr Martin-Brown, confirmed that Freedland ‘during one-on-one counseling sessions’ explained his concern over the ‘illegal activities’ of this former business partner, according to records we obtained. .

Yet the Disciplinary Hearing Officer made this finding: “The DHO finds you guilty of using the three-way call, which is a direct violation of rules and regulations.” Although the prison officer acknowledged that Freedland was motivated “to try to reach the FBI to report a crime,” it didn’t matter.

“This type of behavior will not be tolerated at this facility,” the report said.

The friend on the other end of that call told The Daily Beast that Freedland just wanted to help.

“He was trying to do the right thing and protect these girls who weren’t able to protect themselves. He asked me to act on his behalf and get in touch with the people who were in a position to prevent this type of activity from happening,” he said.

Freedland told The Daily Beast that he was eventually able to connect with FBI special agents and relay information about Lazzaro, a point that was confirmed by a law enforcement source.

Freedland’s father said his son’s suffering in prison was hard to bear.

“It’s like the theater of the absurd. You cannot win. You try to do good and get shot for it. Let’s face it, they must have rules. But there have to be exceptions to the rules, and I would definitely consider that one of them,” he said.

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