F. Lee Bailey Begins 6-Month Jail Sentence
Grim-faced and silent, attorney F. Lee Bailey surrendered to federal authorities Wednesday evening to begin serving a six-month sentence for contempt of court after failing to raise the $2.3 million that would have kept him out of jail.
On his way to the U.S. marshal’s office in Tallahassee to begin his sentence, the 62-year-old lawyer bulled his way through a crowd of reporters, knocking one cameraman to the ground.
Federal prosecutors have charged Bailey with failing to hand over more than $21 million in stocks and cash that belonged to a drug trafficker who was once represented by the celebrated criminal defense lawyer.
Bailey has said that he was given custody of the stock to use as he saw fit and drew from it to pay his legal fees. But prosecutors argued that the stock became the property of the government when French American smuggler Claude Duboc pleaded guilty to drug and money-laundering charges.
Last month U.S. District Judge Maurice Paul, sitting in Ocala, Fla., found Bailey in contempt of court for failing to turn over the assets. The lawyer was to surrender last Friday, but a federal appeals court in Atlanta issued an emergency stay pending oral arguments. The three-judge panel heard the case Tuesday and upheld Paul’s finding of contempt. Paul then reissued his order for Bailey to surrender.
For Bailey, a man known for his command of the courtroom and an unsinkable ego, going to jail clearly represented an ignominious turn. Within an hour of surrendering, he was photographed and fingerprinted. Then he was led out the back door of the marshal’s office, tieless in his dark suit, handcuffed and walking haltingly in leg irons. He was put in a car and driven to a federal detention center. His lawyer, Roger Zuckerman, refused to comment.
Jail time is not Bailey’s only problem. The Internal Revenue Service and the Florida bar also reportedly are looking into Bailey’s handling of the stock and the money, which has been in Bailey’s custody for 18 months.
During that time, the stock has quadrupled in value, and Bailey admits using it as collateral for a $2.3-million personal loan. He used part of that money as a down payment on a $1.2-million house near Palm Beach.
Bailey rose to prominence in the 1960s when he represented Sam Sheppard, a Cleveland doctor convicted of killing his wife. Bailey won a new trial for Sheppard--whose case inspired “The Fugitive” television series and movie--and eventually an acquittal.
After representing other famous clients, including confessed “Boston strangler” Albert DeSalvo and Patty Hearst, Bailey joined the team of lawyers who won an acquittal for O.J. Simpson on murder charges in Los Angeles last year. Bailey now represents Simpson in the civil case and was scheduled to take a deposition from former Los Angeles police officer Mark Fuhrman this weekend.
Bailey can be freed from jail whenever he meets Judge Paul’s conditions. He raised $700,000, Bailey said this week, and had turned over documents relating to the Duboc case but needed $2.3 million in cash to satisfy a lien on the bulk of the stock, which is held by a Swiss bank.
“I’m very sad to see this happen,” said Ed Garland, an Atlanta attorney and longtime Bailey friend who sat beside him in the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday.
“Lee has cut a wide path and I know he’s made some people mad. But this is a very punitive action. I think the judge and prosecutor are trying to put F. Lee Bailey’s scalp on their belts.”
Bailey’s problems in North Florida began in 1994 after he was brought in to help defend Duboc by his old friend and colleague Robert Shapiro, who would later invite Bailey to join Simpson’s defense team. During the Simpson trial, however, the two men became estranged and now do not speak.
Last month in Ocala, Shapiro testified for the government during a hearing into the agreement between prosecutors and Bailey in which Bailey was entrusted with Duboc’s assets. The agreement was not committed to writing.
Bailey has said that he has less than $50,000 in cash but has pledged his homes, businesses, airplanes and cars, worth an estimated $4.5 million, to cover the lien, which would then permit the stock to be transferred from Credit Suisse to the government. “I have acted in good faith since Day One,” he said Tuesday in Atlanta.
But Assistant U.S. Atty. David McGee has argued that Bailey’s “actions demonstrate an affront to this court . . . a disregard to this court’s orders,” and he added that Bailey used for his own enrichment “money he stole from the taxpayers.”