A 73-year-old man serving a 505-year sentence in federal prison without parole was granted compassionate release by his sentencing judge in November 2020, citing the risk of death from COVID-19 as the reason he should be at home and not in prison.
Juan Carlos Seresi was sentenced in 1991 after being convicted of laundering $300 million in drug cartel money. He was one of four convicted in the offense and wasn’t the leader but an “employee.” The sentence was considered draconian even during the tough-on-crime era at the time.
In August 2020, Seresi and his codefendants were before the same court in a postconviction challenge, after the government admitted it withheld evidence that it rewarded its informant, Sergio Hochman, for testifying against the four. The government asked the court to overturn their convictions, but the judge refused to do so. “It is not enough that the government’s case would be slightly weaker without Hochman,” U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson said. Hochman’s testimony wasn’t “critical” to the government’s case, the judge concluded, leaving the convictions intact.
At the same time, Seresi’s lawyers also filed a compassionate release motion, citing his advanced age and high blood pressure making him susceptible to increased risk of death from Covid-19. This time, the court agreed and ordered Seresi’s immediate release “without delay.”
The court acknowledged Seresi’s risk of death, should he get the virus, but also said that other factors taken as a whole played a part to establish “extraordinary and compelling reasons” for his release: (1) Seresi was convicted of a nonviolent offense, (2) he already served more than 30 years, (3) he earned three college degrees in prison, and (4) his disciplinary record was near spotless.
Seresi’s codefendants now hope to convince the court to also release them, their lawyers said in response to Seresi’s release. “They’re essentially around the same age,” attorney Jerry Newton said. “It’s a fair and just result to let them enjoy the remainder of their lives outside of prison.”
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