Inmate, Lawyer Linked to Mail Scam

Times Staff Writer

A San Diego County Jail inmate and his court-appointed attorney have been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly running a national mail fraud scheme--which included solicitation of nude photographs--from the inmate’s private cell.

The 36-count indictment, made public Thursday by U.S. Atty. Peter K. Nunez, also charges Mark Winston, 30, and his lawyer, Benjamin Sanchez Jr., 49, with distributing child pornography and sexual exploitation of children.

According to federal prosecutors, the alleged scheme, which lasted from April, 1986, to last March, was financed by taxpayers. The county paid not only for Sanchez’s services as an attorney but also for Winston’s many long-distance phone calls, which cost up to $1,000 a month.


The alleged fraud began when Winston decided to act as his own attorney while incarcerated in County Jail awaiting trial on state narcotics charges.

As his own attorney, Winston was granted special privileges, “including a private jail cell with two separate telephones, unlimited access to long-distance telephones, access to a law library, a criminal defense lawyer to assist him in his representation, and also investigators and ‘legal runners’ to assist him with (his) defense,” according to a statement released by Nunez.

Sanchez was the lawyer appointed by the court through the Office of Defender Services to help Winston.

The indictment says that Winston set up a sham modeling agency that he operated from his cell with help from Sanchez and some of the other, unnamed, legal runners. Using newspaper ads nationwide, Winston allegedly offered high-paying modeling jobs, which didn’t exist. Persons were told to send in a $10 fee and photographs.

Some people, according to Nunez, sent in explicit nude pictures. Winston and Sanchez--who sent short rejection letters to some applicants--supposedly contacted others and encouraged them to send in additional and more explicit photographs.

Sanchez was unavailable for comment Thursday. Winston is serving his term on the drug violation.