A Kiryas Joel man incarcerated for 19 years for financial fraud may leave prison five years ahead of schedule under a new law that makes him eligible for home confinement when he turns 60 in September.
Mordechai Samet, arrested with other suspects in an FBI roundup in 2001 and charged with leading several fraud schemes, appears to have overcome a major drawback to early release: the prospect that he would then be deported back to his native Israel. He and a group that lobbied on his behalf say federal authorities last week lifted the immigration detainer on him, enabling the father of 11 to return to his family in Kiryas Joel when he gets out.
The Orthodox Jewish newspaper Hamodia reported the decision on Feb. 22, based on an interview with the leader of an organization that campaigned for prison reforms Congress passed in 2018 and for Samet's early release under that law, the First Step Act.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that reportedly agreed to remove Samet's detainer after refusing to do so last year, didn't respond to requests from the Times Herald-Record to verify the report.
Samet, reached by email at Otisville Federal Correctional Institution, told the Record he was informed that the detainer had been lifted. He had been uncertain about his release prospects in earlier email exchanges with the Record since November, saying he didn't know how to resolve the problem with the detainer and his Israeli citizenship.
Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, who announced ICE's decision on Twitter and was the source for the Hamodia story, told the Record he would call back when he was reached on his cell phone on Friday, but he didn't. The article indicated that his group, Tzedek Association, secured the ICE decision with White House support and other politicians' help.
Margaretten said on Twitter on Feb. 21: “Tzedek is thrilled to share the amazing news that with the help of Hashem, after many months of tireless efforts by a tremendously talented team of advocates in DC and NY, we can confirm that ICE has lifted the detainer of Mordechai Samet!”
Activists had been collecting donations for months to lobby for a reprieve for Samet from what was viewed in the Hasidic community as an excessive sentence. One online campaign, which features a 10-minute video about Samet's case with testimonials from his children and other supporters, indicates it raised more than $1.1 million.
The provision of the First Step Act that benefits Samet is one that allows federal prisoners to be released at age 60 and finish their prison terms under home confinement if they have served two thirds of the sentences.
Samet was set to be released from prison in 2025 for his 2002 conviction on 33 counts of racketeering, money laundering and other charges. Colleen McMahon, the federal judge who presided over the cases of Samet and his co-defendants, accused him of living “a life of unremitting fraud” and defining the word “racketeer” when she sentenced him.
He led a group of mostly young men that netted more than $5.5 million through a series of scams, including fake lotteries and using dozens of fake identities to obtain fraudulent tax refunds and business loans. Samet was ordered to pay $4.1 million in restitution to the government as part of his sentence.
Eleven of the 14 men who were charged pleaded guilty, two were convicted after trials and one was never located.