Sun-Sentinel – 12/15/2015

Florida ex-county commissioner convicted in corruption sting starts new life as prison coach.

To see interview, click here.

December 4, 2015, 5:01PM

Former Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty knows they don't do root canals in federal prison — they just pull the tooth.

She knows you can do your time easy by focusing on self improvement, or you can do it hard by stirring up trouble.

Now, she wants to teach others how to make incarceration as smooth as possible.

Her new job title: prison coach.

"I realized while I was away that there are quite a few people who find themselves in trouble with the federal government unwittingly and have never had any experience with prison and the criminal justice system," McCarty said.

Ex-county commissioner.

Former Palm Beach County commissioner Mary McCarty, who now runs a consulting business as a prison coach. (Carline Jean / Sun Sentinel)

She's available around-the-clock to offer what she describes on her website as "compassionate coaching for incarceration preparedness."

The 60-year-old Delray Beach resident has a long list of accomplishments — University of Florida graduate, chair of the Republican Party of Palm Beach County and chairwoman of the Palm Beach County Commission.

But that long career of public service ended in disgrace when she pleaded guilty to honest services fraud and spent close to two years in a federal work camp in Texas. She was released in 2011.

The felony charge stemmed from votes she cast as commissioner to steer business to her husband, a bond underwriter. The couple also accepted free and discounted hotel stays from the company selected by the county to build a convention center hotel in West Palm Beach.

That ordeal drained her financially and marked her as a felon. McCarty and her husband of 35 years, Kevin, paid more than $250,000 in restitution. She lost her pension. Her husband was sentenced to prison for eight months for not reporting the crime.

Before going to prison, the couple was two years away from retirement, but that is no longer the case, McCarty said.

"We are now in debt pretty heavily as a result of this," said McCarty, who has no children. "My husband and I will probably be working the rest of our lives. However, I learned after living out of a [prison] locker we don't need that much."

McCarty gave up her Lexus and drives a Ford Fusion now, but the couple managed to keep their home in Delray Beach and a second home in Maine.

As for their marriage, McCarty said going to prison made it stronger. More often than not, that's not case, McCarty says, citing statistics that more than half of prison marriages end in divorce.

With public service comes temptation, she says, and she expects other high-profile Florida political figures might be calling her in the future.

"The longer you are in public office the more susceptible you are to believing you are above the law and rationalizing your behavior," McCarty said.

McCarty's friends say she is happy and has moved past her troubled time. Despite her work to improve Palm Beach County and Delray Beach, it's her misdeeds the public remembers, said Andre Fladell, a political operative who has been active in Palm Beach County for nearly four decades.

"The evil that people do often lives on, but the good they do other people like to take credit for," Fladell said.

Prison consulting is a growing field, said Michael Frantz, founder of Jail Time Consulting, which has offices in Fort Lauderdale. His website assures potential clients that "federal prison isn't easy, but it is manageable."

McCarty declined to list her rates publicly, saying it varies depending on the case. Frantz said he charges between $350 to $3,500 for each program he offers. Some clients select multiple programs and can pay more than $10,000 for consulting work.

South Florida is fertile ground for potential clients, Frantz said. He lists all the reasons he spends part of the year in Fort Lauderdale. There's Medicare fraud, tax fraud, mortgage fraud — not to mention drug trafficking and pill mills.

He's frustrated that competition seems to be increasing from other ex-convicts.

"They get out and they have nothing and they say, 'I am going to be a prison consultant,'" said Frantz, who went to prison for health care fraud and tax evasion.

But McCarty says she can prepare clients for prison, advise them on how to handle the media and help them to maintain their credit rating and pay bills while behind bars. She said she worked with about 15 people before formally starting her business, and said she has four clients presently.

Her clients include people caught up in drug smuggling, Medicare fraud, embezzlement and pill mills. She said they don't want to be publicly identified, but she offers anonymous testimonials on her website.

Unlike the legal field, the prison consulting business is unregulated, so it's buyer beware, said Scott Berry, past president of the Palm Beach Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

"I can't imagine there is anything too groundbreaking that a good lawyer couldn't find out on their own," he said. "There is some benefit for a client to speak to someone who has been there. I can tell you what the rules are and what I've heard, but I can't tell you what it's like to be a prisoner."

McCarty admitted she takes responsibility for her misdeeds in public office, but she said she never knew she was violating federal law.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled after her conviction that the honest services fraud law was too vague and should be limited to cases of bribes and kickbacks. Two of her colleagues on the commission also went to federal prison for using their office to benefit themselves.

As a felon, McCarty is prohibited from voting, serving on a jury or running for office. Florida is one of the toughest states for felons to have their voting rights restored, and they must wait at least five years after their sentence until they can ask for their rights to be restored. She's advocating for that to change, a position she said she didn't hold before going to prison.

She said she has no plans to run for political office if her rights were restored.

"Twenty-one years of my life was in elected office and at the very end of it, I blew it," she said. "I screwed up. Now, I would like to give back to the community in other ways."

sswisher@tribpub.com, 561-243-6634; on Twitter @SkylerSwisher

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