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Kim Savant says he’d be worth more to society out of prison

Kim Savant arrives at the federal courthouse in Gulfport with his family on the day he pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge in December 2014.
Kim Savant arrives at the federal courthouse in Gulfport with his family on the day he pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge in December 2014. amccoy@sunherald.com File

Some men dream of hitting the Powerball. Kim Savant dreams of walking out of Federal Prison Camp Montgomery in Alabama a free man.

Savant, the former Harrison County supervisor turned inmate, has much better odds than the weekend lottery player, but still he’s a long shot in his application to President Barack Obama to have his sentence commuted because of his age and health problems and the fact he pleaded guilty and accepted responsibility for his actions.

For Savant, a nonviolent white-collar offender serving time for bribery, his best hope for freedom is Obama who has commuted the sentences of hundreds of federal inmates this year. But most of those men and women were in prison for drug crimes.

“The issue in my mind is that no one is speaking for the ‘white collar’ crowd,” Savant wrote in an email to the Sun Herald. “We have no seat at the table.

“If there is a case for reform it must include ALL first time, nonviolent offenders. If the discussion is about lowering incarceration numbers this is the group that should be front and center. And, Executive Clemency should be considered for ALL those that request it, not just minority drug offenders.”

The truth is, he picked a bad time to step outside the law.

A couple of financial scandals ago, say at the turn of the century, the former Harrison County supervisor might have avoided prison altogether for taking bribes from a contractor doing business with a utility board on which the supervisor was the county’s representative.

But that would have been before the names Enron, WorldCom, Jack Abramoff, Jeff Skilling and the like turned the average Joe against the white-collar criminal. The financial meltdown of 2008 didn’t help, either.

Some of the world’s biggest banks admitted they’d lied about billions of dollars in losses and yet only one banker, and a small fish at that, went to jail. People were outraged. And white-collar criminals were their targets.

Bribery at HCUA

A few years after the meltdown, Savant began accepting cash from Sean Anthony, a contractor at the Harrison County Utility Authority. And couple of years after that, Americans once again were shaking their heads over Mississippi as it was named the most corrupt state in the nation.

The people of Mississippi were fed up, and when the scam with Anthony was uncovered, Savant paid the price. He pleaded guilty the day the indictment was unsealed. He cooperated.

And he was sentenced to 60 months in federal prison.

Anthony, much later, was sentenced to house arrest.

“I believe the only factor that hurt me in my sentencing was me being a public figure that ‘violated the public trust,’ ” Savant wrote in a letter to the Sun Herald after the newspaper contacted him and asked if he wanted to tell his side of the story. “I do think my attorney did a poor job in negotiating my plea agreement but I didn’t think of that at the time.”

Savant said he has no hard feelings and to some extent blames himself.

“I had never been in position to defend myself before so I didn’t know what to ask or look for,” he said.

Still, he feels betrayed by the FBI and prosecutors who had promised to help him.

“I am struggling with Judge Ozerden’s decision as well as the FBI’s words and actions,” he wrote. “He had ample reason to lessen my punishment: my community service in the past, my lack of criminal history and my acceptance of guilt. He chose to ignore all that but I believe he did what he thought was ‘just.’

“On the other hand, the investigators and prosecutor(s) promised a favorable sentencing recommendation that I now do not believe they gave.

“I did try to cooperate but they thought I knew a lot more than what I did. My challenge is to stay positive, trust God and keep my family and friends from becoming bitter.”

Long way to freedom

Savant will be released no later than March 2020.

“My biggest problem with being here is not that I don’t feel I deserved punishment because I did,” he wrote in one of his first emails to the Sun Herald. “My problem is it doesn’t take 60 months for me to learn my lesson (and among the white collar offenders I am not alone in that feeling.)

“House arrest, resigning my office, losing my good name in the community and paying my fine would have been all I needed.”

In other words, he’s a firm believer in prison reform. And he argues he would be less costly (the cost of incarceration of a federal inmate is more than $30,000), and more valuable, (as in a valuable lesson to teach) on the outside.

“I also regret that it will be a long time before I can share my experiences with others that may be in a position to deal with decisions that could result in them being here,” he said. “One of my goals when released is to speak to groups of elected officials and explain how my circumstances came to be. There are a lot of people that don’t realize how easy it is to find themselves standing before a federal judge waiting to hear what their fate is.

“Those two appearances in the federal courthouse were two of the most painful of my life exceeded only by walking away from my wife and daughters when I surrendered.”

His best chance

As it is, Savant said the time he’s serving is just punishment. There is no rehabilitation going on.

Savant said there is next to no chance he would do something that would land him back in prison. Statistics seem to bear him out. First-time offenders are far less likely to commit another crime than people with lengthy criminal records (30 percent vs. 80 percent). And older offenders also are far less likely to wind up in prison again. About 16 percent of those older than 60 when released will wind up in prison again, according to a study released this year by the United States Sentencing Commission.

And there was another glimmer of hope earlier this year when House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted in a video about nonviolent criminals: “A lot of them are just people who made a mistake. I think we need to let more people earn a second chance.”

And although Hillary Clinton, whose husband signed the get-tough-on-crime bill that led to a surge in federal prisoners, now backs prison reform, her opponent, Donald Trump, is taking a law-and-order stand. And that means it is highly unlikely Congress will act until after the first of the year.

And not everyone is on board with reducing white-collar sentences. The Department of Justice strongly disagreed with the federal Sentencing Commission’s recommendations to reduce the time served by white-collar criminals.

The Justice Department said any reduction would be contrary to “overwhelming societal consensus.”

But that was last year. Earlier this year, The Mellman Group and Public Opinion Strategies released a survey conducted in January that found more than three-fourths of Americans favoring ending manditory minimum sentences.

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