by Gwen Moritz
Posted 8/5/2013 12:00 am
Updated 8 months ago
A few months back, after Brandon Barber had been charged with dozens of federal crimes, our Whispers column noted that the bankrupt developer had once had a Twitter account. And on that account, he had introduced himself to potential followers thusly:
“God. Proud father. Arkansan in NYC. Serial entrepreneur. Nine lives. New York City.”
After that appeared in print, one of Barber’s loyal supporters called me to complain. Brandon had never intended to imply that he was a god, my caller assured me. That just meant that God was most important in his life.
Well, OK. I actually never thought that his list was perfectly parallel, as the grammarians would say. But there was still something offensive about the way he continued to try to sell himself.
I don’t know exactly when he used those words to describe himself, but it was presumably after he moved to New York, which was sometime after he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy because he had debts of nearly $48 million. Even if he didn’t think he was a god, by then he should have had the humility to stop describing himself as a “serial entrepreneur.” And “nine lives” suggests, to me anyway, that he still thought he was going to dodge the consequences of what he had done.
Brandon Barber’s story is a sad one: A supercharged business career fueled by pride, family connections and bank fraud that flamed out before he was 35. Gambling debts, hot checks, DWIs, divorce, bankruptcy. It would make a dandy Greek tragedy if the protagonist had shown more potential for true greatness, rather than reckless opportunism, in the first place.
Even after all that, Brandon Barber found a way to live better than most honest citizens. His bankruptcy discharge was denied because the judge found that he had systematically hidden assets from his creditors. That led to two indictments and a total of 27 charges against Barber, and five other men who did business with him have also ended up charged with federal crimes.
(I’m not excusing any of them if they are guilty as charged, but it is worth noting that Barber was the common denominator who seems to have benefited from the alleged schemes far more than anyone else.)
A laundry list of criminal charges wasn’t enough to make a believer out of Barber. He violated the terms of his release and was placed under house arrest. Then he violated the terms of his house arrest; see, Brandon Barber was entitled to eat in New York restaurants three times a day, no matter what that federal judge said.
Finally Barber’s nine lives ran out. Federal Magistrate Judge Erin Setser sent him to Washington County jail to await his trials — and the first one wouldn’t start for two months.
Sitting in jail can effect almost miraculous attitude adjustments. Last week, Barber wisely accepted a plea deal that reduced the number of charges against him to three — although U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes can certainly consider all of Barber’s “relevant conduct” when deciding on a sentence. The total amount that he cost his victims will matter more than the number of felony counts in determining how long Barber will spend in federal prison.
I don’t believe in the myth of “Club Fed,” but at least federal correctional facilities are designed for long-term stays, unlike county jails.
I hope Barber’s defense attorney Asa Hutchinson III is being well paid and that he got his money up front. I’d be fed up if my client kept blowing the favorable terms I had been able to secure against all odds.
But even the best lawyers can’t always control their clients. When former state Treasurer Martha Shoffner talked her way out a very favorable plea deal, I was reminded that in 2004 her excellent lawyer, Chuck Banks, had to explain to a federal judge in Detroit that he didn’t know why his client, former Little Rock tax attorney Keith Moser, hadn’t shown up for his scheduled guilty plea.
Ten days in a Madagascar jail made Moser suddenly eager to face the music back home. Moser would then argue that the time he spent in the Pulaski County Detention Center — 13 months — was equal to years in federal prison. He was sentenced to 14 more years anyway.
That sentence appears to have been reduced, probably because he testified against his former law partner, Barry Jewell, who was released a couple of years ago. The federal Bureau of Prisons now expects to release Moser next June, which is three and a half years earlier than his original release date.
Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.