DENNIS CARONI is one of the inmates who runs a sports gambling “ticket” operation from within the razor-wire topped fences here at the low security federal prison in Coleman, FL. Basically, he’s a prison bookie. Gambling is frowned upon by the staff and correctional officers, however, it’s tolerated. No one gets roughed up over gambling debts. Not here.
There’s no money in prison. Instead, inmates use commissary products as currency; hermitically sealed pouches of mackerel fillets are valued at a dollar, Ramen Noodle Soups are 25 cents. Then there are forever stamps, they’re worth fifty cents on the compound, and flat books of 20 stamps have a compound value of ten dollars. You get the picture.
I’ve seen inmates who were worth millions in their past lives, lose their minds over a “two flat book bet” or a “twenty mackerel loss.” The day after a big game, you’ll see inmates trudging around with bulging laundry bags full of mackerels and pockets full of flat books. It’s pretty comical.
I don’t gamble, but I’d observed Caroni on the compound; conspiratorially huddled together with his “ticket runners.” The guys who work for him collecting bets. Caroni’s untreated ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder) and Asperger syndrome has left him too high-strung to deal with the degenerate gamblers who makeup his client base. Most of what I’d observed was Caroni pacing and walking around aimlessly mumbling to himself. He’s constantly in need of a shave. His clothes are always messy. Unkempt.
I was introduced to Caroni by Andrew Levinson. Levinson’s here for what the government calls a “biz opps scam.” Essentially, he sold nearly 19,000 Red Bull energy drink vending machines to roughly 900 customers—the government called them victims—and took in close to $22 million. Unfortunately, he did this by providing false earnings claims. That got Levinson a 17 year federal prison sentence.
At the time, Levinson was, for lack of a better term, a junior partner in Caroni’s gambling business. He approached me in late 2015, regarding Caroni’s story. He wanted to know if I’d consider writing a synopsis.
“On the ticket guy? I don’t know. That guy needs to be medicated,” I said, “and I’ve already done a pill story.”
“It’s not a pill story,” replied Levinson. “He was just an investor and he got nineteen years, for nothing. He never prescribed one pill. He wasn’t even running the clinic.” I was intrigued, but I didn’t want to deal with Caroni’s mental problems. People tell me I’m extremely patient. I’m polite. Non-judgmental. They say I’m a good listener—I’m actually a narcissist; most of the time when people think I’m listening to them talking, I’m really just waiting for an opportunity to talk about myself. Regardless, I’m not a masochist, and dealing with a guy like Caroni seemed painful. “All I’m asking you to do is meet with him, look over his discovery. That’s all it’ll take.”
After I met with Caroni and reviewed the legal documents, I realized Levinson was right. Caroni’s story wasn’t about pills, it was about government corruption and cover-ups. It was about a justice system gone wrong.
I worked with Caroni for months on his synopsis. I’m not going to pretend he was easy to deal with. Caroni has the attention span of a two-year-old. No doubt this is due to his ADHD and Asperger syndrome, but knowing that doesn’t make him any easier to deal with.
However, after reading my first draft, several friends told me, although my description of Caroni was accurate, I should tone it down. They felt I should make him more sympathetic. “Can’t you make him more likable?” one said.
“It’s not a novel,” I replied. “It’s a true crime story. It’s like an article. Liking him is irrelevant.” It doesn’t matter whether Caroni is likable. It doesn’t matter if he’s kind to children and puppies. It doesn’t matter if he runs a ticket operation in prison for mackerel and stamps. It doesn’t matter if you like him. “What matters, all that matters, is that Caroni is innocent.”
DISCLAIMER. Although I thoroughly reviewed Caroni’s trial transcripts, motions, statements, etc. there were certain elements of his personal story that I simply couldn’t verify. For example, I have no way of corroborating whether Caroni was personal friends with Shawn Fanning, Sean Parker or Sean Lennon. Or what (if any) connection he had to Medbox and SongLily. I don’t know if he owned clubs in New Orleans. I’m simply not in a position to verify every detail of Caroni’s personal life.
I was, however, able to review and verify all the documents in his criminal case. I’ve spoken to his mother and his lawyer, and based on that information, Dennis Caroni should not be in prison.