In an effort to share anything that might be of use to them in their investigation of My Fake Hedge Fund Manager, I sought a phone interview with the FBI and last night spoke at some length with a very professional and mildly avuncular special agent from the Chicago office. I told him what I knew about Brandolino and about my dealings with him over time, and I then got to ask a couple questions of my own.
I specifically wanted to know about a curious detail included in the press releases announcing Brandolino's arrest on fraud charges: Rather than seek bail, Brandolino asked to remain in federal custody. That means he's voluntarily locked up inside the Metropolitan Corrections Center downtown, that off-yellow, wedge-shaped modernist fortress near the Washington Library with the thin, vertical, rectangular battlement windows and the caged yard on top. The place is a step up from Cook County Jail but it's a dump, its interior worn and coated with generations of paint. I interviewed Betty Loren-Maltese there once with my friend David Jackson and I remember how cold and cinder-block the interior was, and how mauve—at least on the floor where we met with Cicero's former town president. The public areas where civilians and the jailed are allowed to mingle have only plastic furniture, and pretty lightweight plastic furniture at that. I have no idea if Brandolino is receiving guests and using the plastic furniture. Maybe he's sticking to his cell. Either way, the accommodations are decidedly not Club Fed.
But the fact that he didn't seek bail and a chance to remain free until he absolutely had to go behind bars got me and apparently several others wondering. A friend wrote to say the scuttlebutt at the Board of Trade is that Brandolino stole money from the mob and, well, you know what happens to people who steal from the mob. You've seen that movie. I have no idea if Brandolino took from mobsters and gave to himself. That seems like an awfully risky move but, then, I'm not exactly inside the scheming head of a swindler. Maybe he thought he could steal from others and pay the mob back and keep on keeping on. Or maybe the talk of mob money is just so much ethnic stereotyping: Italian guy takes money from Italians; there must be some Outfit dough in there, right? Again, I don't know. But I do know the veteran FBI agent I spoke with said he'd never before seen a defendant voluntarily seek to remain in custody. Not in about a decade and a half with the agency. So something's troubling Jimmy, and I can't say I'm too broken up about it. If he feels safe in jail, I hope he stays there for a long time. Be safe, Jim!
The other question I had for the FBI agent was, Why now? What prompted Brandolino to turn himself? I figured Brandolino had basically run out of money and that one of his investors had come asking for a withdrawal. He probably couldn't come up with the money and at that point had only a couple options. He likely first considered flight; Brandolino reportedly went missing for a couple weeks around the holidays and surfaced only to turn himself in to authorities. I don't know where he went but with little cash to underwrite his escape, he must have realized his life as an exile—was he building that condo in Greece for his self-imposed retirement?--was over before it started. The FBI agent didn't exactly know Why Now but said my theory seemed realistic.
In their original charges against Brandolino and in press releases announcing those charges, the government said Brandolino had almost no assets left, meaning we victims would have little hope of restitution. There was no mansion or yacht or Caribbean island to auction off and divvy up. And while authorities continue to search for any undisclosed assets, I'm skeptical they'll find any. We're out what we're out and will never see it again. The law stipulates that Brandolino, if convicted, will be legally responsible for making restitution to his victims for the rest of his life. Like student loans, that kind of legal sentence cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy: He'll carry that weight for good. But will he ever make a payment on it? With what income? And to whom? Who's first in line for the future, incremental, pittance payback? Given the unlikelihood of restitution, I'd rather see Brandolino pay for his crimes with years of his life.
It sounds like Brandolino is cooperating with authorities in hopes of a speedy resolution to his case. Maybe this will all be done by early summer and Jimmy can start serving his, what, six years? Maybe less? Probably less? Whatever the case trajectory, I'll either be appearing before the court during the victim impact phase of sentencing or I'll be writing a letter to the judge to ask that he make sure Brandolino stays safely behind bars for as long as possible. Maybe even long enough to finish his book.