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Federal Law Behind Parrett's Ability to Flee

Former National Century executive and convicted felon Rebecca Parrett is back on U.S. soil after more than two years on the lam. Parrett fled soon after her conviction. She had the opportunity to flee because the judge allowed her to go home to Arizona before she was sentenced to prison. WOSU reports on why this was allowed to happen.

Rebecca Parrett has spent the last two years in Mexico in a little resort town south of Guadalajara. Authorities say she's been living it up going out dancing, visiting an anti-aging doctor.

Her last facial, though, may have been in Mexico. That's because the 62-year-old is on her way back to Ohio where she faces 25 years in prison for multiple felony convictions including securities fraud.

Parrett was a top executive of the former Dublin-based National Century Financial Enterprises that bilked investors out of more than $2 billion.

After Parrett was convicted in March 2008, U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley placed her under house arrest allowing her to go home to Arizona until sentencing. But she did not return to court. Sometime between March 13 and the 26, Parrett fled.

So how's it possible that someone who's been convicted of one of the largest fraud schemes in the country not be remanded to prison to await sentencing? The answer would be federal law.

"The gig's up so-to-speak. The fraud's done. How much more harm can they do?"

Doug Squires is an Assistant U.S. Attorney and the prosecutor in the National Century case. Squires said when someone's been charged the law favors their release - as long as they're not a danger to the community or a flight risk. Once someone's convicted that changes.

"There is a presumption that the person upon conviction, especially trial by jury, that they stay in custody - that they do pose a risk of flight," Squires said.

When it's white collar crime - as in the case of Rebecca Parrett - and the person has no previous violent record, they can try to prove to the court they're not a flight risk, and, like Parrett, remain free on bond. Enron's convicted CEO went on a Colorado vacation after his conviction, where he died. Martha Stewart was allowed to remain free on bail while she appealed her conviction. And former Ohio State professor Roger Blackwell was free for six months after he was convicted and another month after he was sentenced to prison.

Unlike Parrett, most show up for prison.

Squires said white collar defendants, once they've been convicted, tend to be dilemmas for the court because the crime's already been committed.

"It's very hard to determine whether that person is still a danger to the community. The court has a very hard time assessing that. Risk of flight for white collar defendants is a significant factor the court has to consider in white collar cases especially where the length of the sentence - like the high profile cases you mention - come into play because there's a significant incentive to flee to avoid what's pending down the road," Squires said.

If you've been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison, for say drug trafficking - instead of say securities fraud - you will be sitting behind bars waiting on your sentence even if you're a non-violent offender.

"Well there's one class of individuals who certainly don't have a very loud voice in Congress that writes these laws," Steve Nolder said.

Nolder is the federal public defender in the Southern District of Ohio. He said there is a double-standard for blue collar criminals like drug dealers.

"And I think that double-standard shines through when you look at the risk to the public that these folks pose. If you look at the typical person who has a drug conviction, who is awaiting sentencing, and compare what they did with maybe a person such as Becky Parrett I think you have to really question which of those individual poses the greatest risk," he said.

Congress, which makes the law, says it's the drug dealer.

"And I think that that is probably not a sound presumption to put on that class of individuals," Nolder said.

It took the FBI, U.S. Marshals and even Mexican authorities to find Rebecca Parrett. WOSU tried to find out just how much money it cost to do that. Brian Babtist with the U.S. Marshals said he's not sure.

While Parrett was in Mexico, the money laundering charges - that she got 240 months for - were dropped. But Parrett will not benefit from that. She lost her right to any appeals when she fled.