IMPORTANT UPDATE: Prosecutor misconduct leads to new trial for Mindy. Mindy gets heart transplant. See end of story for more details.
Mindy Brass, a resident of San Diego, California, had never been to Michigan before. But she is in Michigan now. Forever.
Mindy was the daughter of Lawrence Brass, a truck driver, and Elaine Brass, a bookkeeper. She was born September 11, 1958. By the time she reached age 23, both of her parents were deceased. Her family unfortunately has a history of severe heart problems.
In 1991, Mindy was a business consultant and board member of the Central Credit Union. She had recently won an award from the NCUA, National Credit Union Association, for her marketing work in the credit union field. This was quite an achievement for a woman just 33 years old, who never graduated from high school. Mindy, a single mother, found time to get her GED even while working full time and caring for her 8 year old daughter Erika.
Mindy had just gotten back from a trip to Las Vegas. She was fortunate enough to win free tickets to a Rod Stewart concert from a local radio station. On December 7, 1991, she went to that concert, leaving Erika with a friend. When she returned home, her life was changed forever.
Mindy walked in her front door, like any other day. But she saw something peculiar. Her brother was handcuffed and lying face down on the couch. Before she could react, an officer approached her and placed her under arrest. The charge: involvement with drugs. Mindy was quite worried. The charges would bring her a 1 1/2 year sentence in a California prison. That would be bad enough. But, all drug crimes are also federal crimes. If prosecuted in federal court, she could receive a stiff 6 year sentence. By the time she got out, her little girl would be a teenager, and Mindy would miss these important years of Erika's life. As every parent knows, once you miss these years, you can never go back and relive them. Mindy contemplated getting out on bond pending trial, hiring a lawyer, and hoping for the best.
Imagine Mindy's horror as she learned she was not charged in California at all, or even in federal court. Instead, the charge was in Michigan, a state she had never been to before, where she did not know a soul. And the penalty was not 6 years. It was life in prison without parole. There was to be no bond for Mindy. All there was to be for Mindy was a stripping away from her of everything that makes life worth living. For Erika, there was the heartbreak of hearing her mom would be taken away from her, and would never be coming back. For both of them, hope turned to ashes, as Oakland County, Michigan treated Mindy like a murderer and savagely crushed this family and its dreams.
An attractive young woman, Mindy attracted the attention of men. One of those men was Emil Mardenli, who owned a tile business. Emil knew that Mindy used cocaine, and asked her to buy him a large amount. Mindy said no. She kept saying no for 2 months. That should have ended the matter. But it didn't.
Finally, Emil told Mindy he was in big trouble. He needed a kilo of cocaine or someone was going to hurt him. The cocaine was to go to a man named Lou in San Diego. Mindy didn't want to see Emil hurt. As a good, decent person who cared about her friend, and feared and hated violence, she knew she had to do something. So, she asked around. And when she got to Bill Leflet, he said he could get the cocaine for her.
But a complication arose. Emil told Mindy he did not have the money to buy the kilo. So Mindy contacted Bill and told him the deal was off. Much to her surprise, Bill told her the deal was not off. Bill said that the cocaine was coming from the "Mexican Mafia," and if they did not get their money they would come and take it out of her hide. Mindy was scared to death.
Bill forced her to pay $3000. Mindy told him he should just take the $3000, and pay off his friends, and she did not even want the cocaine. Bill did not accept this offer. The kilo cost $14,000. Bill insisted that the rest of the money was to be paid later, or Mindy would face the wrath of Bill Leflet's Mexican associates.
Apparently, Bill was lying. According to police, Bill used Mindy's money as a down payment on a kilo of cocaine from Michael Toler, a non-Mexican California resident. Mindy never saw the cocaine. If she had seen it, it would not have looked remarkable. A kilo is only 2.2 pounds, an amount so small you can hold it in one hand.
All of these events took place in the state of California.
In pursuit of its mission to increase the body count of ruined lives, the government independently decided to target Emil Mardenli. Opting for treachery, and sparing no expense, the government assigned an agent to seek out Mardenli and pretend to become his friend. To ensure the plan would work, they used an undercover agent of Arabic descent in order to gain the confidence of Mardenli, also of Arabic descent. This "friendship" was unknown to Mindy. Also unknown to Mindy was that the agent was from another state, Michigan. Indeed, the agent was the only person in the case with a Michigan connection. The agent urged Emil to bring cocaine to Troy, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. While Mindy was in Las Vegas, Bill and Emil decided to go to Michigan. Bill and Emil were arrested in Troy in December 1991. Mindy was arrested in San Diego a few days later.
Bill Leflet, an experienced drug dealer, was prepared for the arrest. He quickly made a deal to inform on everyone he could.
Mindy signed over power of attorney to her brother Allen. Without her consent, he sold all of her property, leaving Mindy penniless. He even allowed her car, which was almost paid off, to be repossessed. Mindy, the so-called "drug kingpin," did not even have enough money to hire a lawyer, so she had to get a court-appointed lawyer. As many accused persons have learned to their sorrow, the lack of money often leads to a lackluster defense in court.
The trial went forward. In order to secure the conviction of Mindy Brass in a Michigan court for actions that took place in California, Bill Leflet had to lie. However, when you are in the business of cashing in someone's life like a pop bottle, a little thing like lying won't stand in your way. So Bill testified that Mindy knew that Bill and Emil were going to Michigan to sell the cocaine to Emil's "friend," the agent. He testified to a meeting at Mindy's house where Mindy and Danny Solomon learned of the Michigan plan. Mindy swore she had no idea that Michigan was even involved. The jury either believed Bill Leflet about the Michigan knowledge, or did not care. The result: Bill got 3 years in prison, while Emil, Mindy, Danny and Mike all got life in prison without parole.
On appeal, Mindy and Danny had two different 3 judge panels of judges. Danny's panel reversed his conviction, and he went free. Mindy's judges upheld her conviction, requiring her to rot in prison forever. If the Court of Appeals clerk had assigned Danny's panel to Mindy's case, and Mindy's panel to Danny's case, it is likely that Mindy would be free, and Danny would be the one wasting the rest of his life in prison. On such freakish coincidences are people's lives and futures written.
After Mindy lost her appeal, she began to acquire records from the cases of her codefendants. She was shocked to learn that prosecutor Reid Roe had withheld vital information from her attorney. From the record of Emil Mardenli's case, she learned that prosecutors knew that the phone call of the agent to Emil, which set up the deal to come to Michigan, took place AFTER MINDY HAD LEFT FOR LAS VEGAS. The conversation at Mindy's house that Bill testified to, where Mindy and Danny Solomon supposedly learned of the Michigan plan, could not possibly have taken place. A motion to reconsider her case is pending.
Reid Roe was promoted to a federal prosecutor, as a reward for ruining these people's lives. In the meantime, people all over Michigan continue to use cocaine whenever they want. As no one in Michigan had ever gotten cocaine from Mindy, her incarceration had ABSOLUTELY NO EFFECT on the availability of cocaine in Michigan. Cocaine use and cocaine arrests continue in every county of the state, from the biggest to the smallest. People did not stop using cocaine just because Mindy went to prison, nor would nonusers start using cocaine just because Mindy somehow got out. Her lifetime of suffering, supposedly for the good of society, has not caused cocaine use in Michigan to drop by even 1%.
As we learned at such great cost during the war on alcohol (1919-1933), all the guns, handcuffs and prison cells in the world cannot crush a people's desire to be free. In 1928, Michigan imprisoned Etta Mae Miller for life for possessing 2 pints of whiskey, and being a repeat alcohol offender. The great mass of people went on drinking with little notice paid to her suffering. A maturing society now allows Etta's "crime" to be performed thousands of times daily, in homes, restaurants, bars and liquor stores throughout the state, without the need for savage government retribution. Even though 36 people die from using alcohol for every one person who dies from using cocaine (according to NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse), the same maturity we apply to alcohol problems has not been extended to cocaine. In fact, according to NIDA, tobacco kills more people in one year than the total of all people killed by all illegal drugs for the last century.
Another Oakland County prosecutor, Lawrence Bunting, was quoted in the newspaper as saying that it will cost taxpayers $24,000 a year to keep Mindy locked up, but it is "a justifiable trade off" because drugs "contribute to enormous problems in society." Prosecutors Roe and Bunting are guaranteed good paying jobs with a bright future, as the lock-up business has never been better, and if Michigan residents somehow did stop using drugs, Michigan could always do what they did in this case: go to other states to import new inmates for its prisons.
In the case of Harmelin v. Michigan, the US Supreme Court ruled, by a 5 to 4 vote, that Michigan's sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole for drug involvement does not violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. If one judge had voted differently, Mindy could someday be free. If the Harmelin case had been decided a year earlier, Mindy could someday be free. During that year, Justice William Brennan retired and was replaced by Justice David Souter, who cast the deciding vote. Justice Brennan was known for his strong record of voting to find overly harsh sentences to be unconstitutional, and would certainly not have voted as did Justice Souter. So, Mindy can never be released because of a delay in the processing of Mr. Harmelin's case. On such freakish coincidences are people's lives and futures written.
It is of course heartbreaking for Mindy to spend her life in prison. It is even more heartbreaking for Erika. Now 13, Erika lives in a foster home in California. She and her mother write to each other constantly. Erika is permitted to visit her mother twice a year. Evidently, prosecutor Bunting does not agree that separating a child from her mother, leaving her to grow up in foster homes, "contributes to enormous problems in society." To him, only cocaine use is a problem, not government action that crushes lives and tears families apart. Meanwhile, Mindy tries hard to wear a smile for her daughter during their twice-yearly visits.
Mindy is permitted to walk only 10 minutes a day. She gets around by wheelchair. Thankfully, she has an oxygen concentrator in her cell, which helps her to breathe. Her condition does not permit her to work. So, she spends her days reading romance novels, dreaming of what might have been, and waiting for death to come.
The taxpayers of Michigan are certainly getting a bargain with Mindy. If she lasts another year, she will die by age 40. By dying early, she will have saved the taxpayers over $1 million in incarceration costs.
Armed robbers, rapists and murderers are released from prison every day. Even killers like Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan are eligible for parole. Yet, under the laws of the state of Michigan, Mindy Brass is not. In the relentless, twisted logic of the war on drugs, a nonviolent woman in a wheelchair, close to death, is far too dangerous even to be considered for release. Ever. So, Mindy Brass must obviously be considered:
Click here to read how Michigan's drug laws have been condemned by Canadian courts.
Click here to read how other drug users who avoided arrest now run our country, and hypocritically demand a lifetime of suffering for Mindy and hundreds of thousands like her.
Click here to read about America's first war on drugs, also known as Prohibition, and its continuing legacy today.
Click here to read about Sally Smith, also doing life in prison for drugs.
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A new trial began in January, 1999 before Judge Meyer Warshawsky. The trial was much longer than the first trial. It was stopped after Mindy again fell seriously ill. The trial was suspended, and after a few weeks, Mindy had a heart transplant.
Unfortunately, while most organ recipients suffer some degree of cellular rejection, Mindy has a serious case of both cellular and vascular rejection. Her body does not want to accept the new heart, so she must undergo extensive drug therapy and other uncomfortable therapies that are not themselves without risk. She wears plastic tubes inserted into her body at all times so medical personnel can more easily get at her blood, and visits the hospital every other day.
The Oakland County Prosecutor's Office has finally softened its position on Mindy. They offered and she accepted a plea bargain where she pleads no contest to a lower drug charge and gets time served. So, it appears that her legal ordeal is over, but her medical ordeal is just beginning. A happy ending?
Well, maybe for Mindy. But the prisons are filled with thousands of Mindy's, kept from everything that matters in life by a cruel master: their own government. In a world where one drug user gets life in prison and another gets to be President, little makes sense. Mindy is out of prison, and there has been no reported change in drug use or drug availability in Michigan. Society has not crumbled. We are just as safe whether she is in or out. Doesn't that suggest that her original sentence of life imprisonment for drug involvement might have been a little excessive? If so, what does that say about laws like Michigan's that give the judge no option other than life in prison?
For further information, please visit these sites:
The FAMM Website battles against these mandatory sentencing laws.
The November Coalition Website tells the story of more victims of our Government's lust for incarceration.