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Fatma Khaled AbdulfattahJuly 26, 2020

Richard DeLisi, 71, makes use of a walker to get round in prison. He was convicted of a crime that is not a crime in 11 states. (Leafly illustration)

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“I haven’t seen him in 25 years,” Ted DeLisi mentioned about his brother Richard. “It’s really a sad thing. He is my brother. I love him. And I can’t do anything to get him out.”

Richard DeLisi, 71, is at the moment serving 98 years in prison for smuggling hashish into Florida in the 1980s. He was convicted in 1989 as a part of a regulation enforcement reverse-sting/entrapment operation.

DeLisi now makes use of a walker to get round Florida’s South Bay Correctional Facility. His well being issues embody arthritis, diabetes, neuropathy, hypertension, again points, and persistent obstructive pulmonary illness.

DeLisi is predicted to be launched in 2022, in keeping with the Florida Department of Corrections. But as a result of his superior age and the wildfire nature of COVID-19 in our nation’s prisons, DeLisi won’t survive to see that launch date. As of late July, more than 5,000 prison inmates in Florida had examined constructive for the coronavirus—though that quantity is extensively assumed to be an underestimate, as a result of scarce availability of assessments. 37 inmates have died of COVID-19 up to now this yr.

DeLisi’s pals, household, and advocates don’t need to see him turn into a statistic. “He is an elder in poor health and he is in a prison that is experiencing a COVID-19 pandemic,” mentioned Chiara Juster, one of many attorneys preventing to get DeLisi launched.

Richard DeLisi in the 1980s, left, and in a newer picture, proper. (Photos courtesy Last Prisoner Project)

At least 70 Americans are serving life sentences for marijuana convictions

Richard DeLisi is considered one of many non-violent prisoners incarcerated on lengthy sentences for hashish. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, one in 5 folks at the moment incarcerated in the United States are in prison for a drug offense.

As of 2018, greater than 70 folks had been serving life sentences for marijuana convictions that didn’t embody violence. Those imprisoned embody aged inmates like Richard who are suffering from medical circumstances that require medical consideration.

Florida voters legalized medical marijuana in a statewide constitutional modification in 2016. In 2020, state-licensed dispensaries are anticipated to promote greater than $800 million in hashish merchandise to tons of of 1000’s of sufferers.

Meanwhile, Richard DeLisi stays behind bars for making an attempt to move hashish to Florida greater than 30 years in the past.

A brother’s name

His poor well being isn’t the one factor weighing down Richard DeLisi lately. He will get lonely. He calls his brother Ted two to 3 instances per day.

“I lived there [in prison] for 31 years, so I know what it is like,” Ted informed Leafly. “I really want him home.”

Ted, who now lives in North Carolina, is barred from visiting his brother as a result of prison officers imagine he’s a safety menace. So he’s restricted to cellphone conversations together with his brother.

Both brothers had been charged with the identical offenses—racketeering, hashish trafficking, and conspiracy to site visitors hashish. Ted, nonetheless was launched in 2013 after serving 31 years as a result of he appealed the conspiracy conviction. The solely piece of proof supporting the conspiracy cost was a single finger print on a map of South America. An appeals court docket determined that wasn’t ample proof to convict him.

“I was there for 31 years for nothing violent,” Ted informed Leafly. “It was just marijuana.”

Richard DeLisi’s official state inmate picture, on the South Bay Correctional Facility close to Lake Okeechobee, Florida.

98 years for a 12-to-17-year sentencing vary

Sentencing tips beneficial a 12-year to 17-year sentence for DeLisi’s crimes. Instead, he was sentenced to 98 years. Why? Because prosecutors selected to go after him on RICO fees.

The federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) was meant for use as a device to interrupt the grip of organized crime on American cities. Florida handed its personal state model of the RICO Act in 1977, making any prison conspiracy a first-degree felony punishable by as much as 30 years in prison.

At the time of their trial, Richard and Ted DeLisi had been accused of being “orchestrators” in the state RICO Act violation for which they had been charged. Because of that RICO conviction, the choose handed down a sentence that far exceeded the state beneficial tips.

Guilty, however with an unjust sentence

Richard DeLisi’s authorized staff is at the moment gathering proof and assist for a state clemency petition. The Last Prisoner Project, a company that helps prisoners locked away for non-violent hashish crimes, is elevating consciousness about over-incarcerated folks like DeLisi.

“The ‘conspiracy,’” Juster defined, which was one of many fees on which DeLisi was convicted, “was for an offense that was never completed and was entirely abandoned.”

“I’ll tell you right off, we were guilty of what they were charging us with,” Ted DeLisi informed Leafly. “But we still deserved a fair trial. Richard is sitting there with an illegal sentence. If they correct it, he goes home immediately—because a second-degree felony gets a lower sentence,” time that Richard DeLisi has already served.

A sting operation arrange by Florida officers

Richard DeLisi’s arrest happened as the results of a reverse-sting operation. That’s a type of entrapment described by officers on the Last Prisoner Project like this:

A reverse-sting is an operation in which the police, by means of covert means, goal people who’ve or are prone to commit a explicit kind of crime. The authorities then create or facilitate the very offense of which the defendant is convicted, in this case which means the crime was by no means really dedicated. All that was required to create the conspiracy cost was a recorded settlement from Richard to commit the crime. It is a controversial police tactic and is deemed illegal in many nations world wide.

An informant named James White labored with a number of authorities companies, together with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, IRS, and customs, to basically create a prison conspiracy and entice the DeLisi brothers into it.

Richard DeLisi was captured on an audio recording agreeing to commit the crime. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement monitored White’s contact with the brothers for 4 months as they arrange a deal to smuggle marijuana throughout the Caribbean into the United States.

The DeLisi brothers had been solely two of many individuals arrange and/or arrested as a results of James White’s actions.

“Before acting as an informant, White set up at least 75 individuals who were charged with drug crimes,” mentioned Elizabeth Buchanan, considered one of Richard DeLisi’s attorneys.

How injustice impacts a whole household

Growing up in New York together with his brothers Ted and Chuck, Richard by no means actually discovered to learn and write. Severe dyslexia stopping him from gaining the abilities. So he taught himself in prison. A childhood buddy, Ted Feimer, despatched him phonics books in jail and labored by means of classes with him over the cellphone.

DeLisi could have discovered new abilities in prison, however he additionally missed out on all of the life occasions that transpire in any household. Richard, Ted, and Chuck’s father handed away final yr. In 2018, Richard’s daughter Ashley suffered a extreme automobile accident in which she injured her hip. He’s by no means met his grandchildren in particular person. His two kids, Rick and Ashley, grew up and matured into maturity while he was locked away.

“I know Richard has a good heart,” mentioned Richard DeLisi’s niece Gina DeLisi. “He is not a violent man. This is just a hard thing to live with. It’s a nightmare.”

Gina’s father Ted was locked up when she was 16 years previous. That led to nervousness that usually made it onerous for her to go the courtroom. Richard’s youngsters, she mentioned, had related experiences rising up.

“You have no idea the money, the energy, the anxiety, and the depression that this causes families,” mentioned Gina DeLisi. “It’s frustrating to have your hands tied behind your back.”

What occurs subsequent

Gina DeLisi and different family members are working with Richard’s attorneys and advocates, posting petitions on social media, and spreading consciousness about what is occurring in the system—not simply with their member of the family, however with the 1000’s of Americans nonetheless held captive in the conflict on medication.

The authorized staff is hoping that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis might be made conscious of Richard DeLisi’s case and grant him clemency.

How to assist free Richard DeLisi

You might help by:

  • Contacting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and urging him to grant clemency to Richard DeLisi. Call (850) 717-9337 and e mail GovernorRon.Desantis@eog.myflorida.com.
  • Learning extra about Richard DeLisi and fellow drug conflict prisoners by means of the Last Prisoner Project.
  • Spreading the phrase about Richard DeLisi through your social media platforms.
  • Writing DeLisi personally at Florida’s South Bay Correctional Facility, 600 U.S. Highway 27, South Bay, Florida 33493-2233.
Fatma Khaled Abdulfattah's Bio Image

Fatma Khaled Abdulfattah

Fatma Khaled Abdulfattah is a New York-based multimedia journalist whose work focuses on politics and injustice in North America and the Middle East. She is a current graduate of the Columbia Journalism School.

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