There is no doubt about Alice’s guilt. That was evident by her plea. What’s not in your article is that it took three years from the time of arrest to her sentencing. That’s three years of her living under a combination of state and federal parole. That’s three years where she worked diligently on rehabilitating herself. That’s three years where she ran a Facebook page now with over 1,000 followers to assist convicted felons with their re-entry into society. That’s three years where she was a worthy contributor to our local community, assisting with Girl Scout events and at our local church.
Also not in your article, she was a model prisoner and according to her New York State parole office, in a letter submitted to the court, a model parolee. There are a slew of things the public will not understand from your article – most will take it as evidence that Alice committed a new crime (as opposed to crimes committed prior to her incarceration), and in a small community like ours, the only thing that does is hurt my daughter. I’m sure that did not cross your mind, but it crosses mine every day. So maybe you could have gone without using Alice’s sentencing as a “lead”, maybe you could have used a smaller banner. Maybe you could have asked for quotes from Alice, her attorney, or her family or friends to add another take on the news. Unfortunately for my daughter, you did none of those things and she’s the one who is the most likely to be hurt by your headline.
I thought about reaching out to you and to the editors at Times-Review many times as the sentencing was delayed again and again to urge you not to front-page the result. As time went on, I thought it would be a natural thing to not make it a lead. Or at least for an editor to reach out for comments prior to publication. Now that opportunity has passed and I will have to live with the thought that I did not do enough to protect my daughter from inadvertent exposure to a local headline.
For your information, there is ample evidence that the U.S. attorney could have made this case simultaneously with the N.Y. State prosecutor in October 2013 and chose not to do so. There is ample evidence that this current sentence could have and should have been served concurrently. In fact, the U.S. attorney and the FBI chose to wait until five weeks after Alice was released from Albion to arrest her on the federal charges. They could have just as easily arrested her while incarcerated or immediately upon her release and they chose not to. I had this same conversation with the FBI agent in charge of the case on the morning of her arrest on the federal charges and he shrugged his shoulders.
Do you really think it took the U.S. attorney 30 months to build a fraud case? You’re a smart person, so you must know that that the U.S. attorney wanted something from Alice. That’s the only reason they turn the screws in this manner. Unfortunately, what they got was either not valuable enough to them or not what they expected, because they did not issue a non-jail time cooperation order. Instead they chose to go through with a sentencing recommendation after her guilty plea. Again, perfectly fine in my point of view. However there’s no due process present here between the time of the plea and the time of the sentencing. Some of that is happenstance. The judge assigned initially died – six-month delay before the case is picked up again. The next judge sat on the case for a year as the U.S. attorney continuously failed to file paper work in a timely manner and kept requesting extensions. Then, the second judge recused himself two days prior to the sentencing hearing because when his clerk finally looked at the details of the case, she realized she attended the same church as Alice. At least Judge Hurley got this done within three months. Of course, none of this is mentioned in your article either.
Think about living for two-and-a-half years with the threat of prison hanging over your head while you attempt to rebuild your life. Think of the affect that has on you and those around you.
Your readers should know that Alice suffered greatly during her incarceration. She suffered greatly during her parole while attempting to rebuild her life as a convicted felon. Now, the federal government, in their wisdom, will make her have to start that process all over. Denise, that is a difficult process.
Alice is lucky. She is Caucasian, she is educated, she is personable. I cannot tell you how difficult it has been for her to find employment. When she is released from this current charge, her path will probably be more difficult. Now, think: What if you are a person of color, uneducated, not so personable? How difficult is your road back? What happened to Alice in this case happens to people of color at a much higher rate and their re-entry into society is even more difficult. Hence our nation’s unparalleled recidivism rate. So why don’t you write an article about that? Take the time, do some research and you will probably come to the same conclusion I have over the past seven years. Our criminal justice system and our prison system is an “industry” — it is an industry supported by our antiquated bail laws, district attorney’s offices throughout the state who have quotas on convictions, U.S. attorneys’ offices that have quotas on convictions, the police departments and the prison system. There is more desire to keep people churning through the system than for rehabilitation.
Now that’s a story worth your attention.
Bill Belmonte is the ex-husband of Alice Belmonte. He lives in Wading River.
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