This Week in Allegedly: Donald Trump's Finances and K-9 Controversy

Greetings! 

New York City’s top courts and crime news this week features President Donald Trump’s taxes, coronavirus, and a dead dog at the Department of Correction. More on all that in The Allegedly List. For The Allegedly Original, Pooja Shah talks with Coss Marte, who hopes that podcastsing can break the cycle of incarceration. 

The Allegedly List

  • The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has ramped up its investigation of Trump’s financial dealings. The Times reported Friday that prosecutors have recently interviewed several people at Trump’s bank and his insurance broker. Meanwhile, the Manhattan D.A. has been in a court battle for more than one year to get Trump’s tax returns; their legal fight is now with the U.S. Supreme Court. Via The New York Times

  • Gigi Jordan, the millionaire pharmaceutical executive whose conviction for giving her 8-year-old autistic son a deadly dose of pills was overturned, was released from prison Wednesday. Jordan was sprung after a Manhattan Federal Court judge threw out her conviction, having determined that the trial judge wrongly sealed the courtroom. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is fighting this ruling, and said prosecutors would retry her case if need be. Via New York Post

  • A onetime Queens prosecutor who tried to keep Black, Latino, and female New Yorkers from juries during the 1990s has reportedly worked as a lawyer for New York City’s largest police union for 13 years. The former assistant district attorney, Christopher J. McGrath, allegedly had handwritten notes as a reminder to keep them from jury pools, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said Thursday. After officials found these notes--and McGrath allegedly copped to using them--Katz recommended that two convictions be vacated. Via Queens Daily Eagle

  • An additional $488 million will be distributed to victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, Manhattan federal prosecutors announced Thursday. This money will be sent to almost 37,000 victims in what’s now the sixth distribution from the Madoff Victim Fund. A total of nearly $3.2 billion has been distributed to date. Via SDNY

  • Coronavirus continues to spread through New York City’s federal jails. As of Dec. 10, Brooklyn MDC and New York MCC have had 105 and 56 positive tests, respectively. From Tuesday to Thursday last week, 55 Brooklyn MDC inmates reportedly tested positive, indicating a sharp surge. Via U.S. Bureau of Prisons, New York Daily News.

  • A Department of Correction dog died after eating a soap container that was left on the ground by a jail staffer. Bingo, who had yet to be trained, was returned to his kennel, languishing overnight. The K-9 was sick the next day, and a veterinarian put him to sleep after unsuccessfully attempting to treat him. Via New York Daily News

The Allegedly Original 

Can Podcasts Break The Prison Cycle?

By Pooja Shah

When Coss Marte was released from New York state prison in 2009, he had $40 and a bus ticket to his name, but he was alive. Marte lost 70 pounds while locked up, after a prison doctor had warned that his weight could cause life-threatening complications.

After Marte returned home to the Lower East Side, things looked and felt different. With a narcotics rap on his record, Marte struggled to find even low-paying work and acclimate to the outside world. 

“People coming out of the system face barriers, not just with employment,” he said. When you are looking for a job, there is so much to worry about: housing, money, food and clothing.”

The problems Marte faced finding a job were just the beginning of challenges for getting back on his feet. They were also the beginning of Marte’s successful fitness business. 

Because traditional avenues to employment weren’t panning out, Marte created his own job, transforming the potentially life-saving workout regimen he developed in his 9 foot-by-6 foot cell into ConBody. The bootcamp-style workouts are taught by former felons, based on their prison workouts, Marte said.

ConBody wasn’t enough for Marte. Although ConBody made a point of employing formerly incarcerated persons who might not otherwise be able to land work, he wanted to give back more, by reducing recidivism rates and stopping the cycle of incarceration in his community. 

This desire gave birth to his next initiative: Second Chance Studios. The nonprofit digital media effort is aimed at training ex-inmates skills focused on podcasting, video, and audio production. Each “fellow” in this New York City-based program would be paired with a mentor to learn technical expertise in podcasting, in the hopes of landing a job with digital media companies. Fellows must be interested in the digital media and, if they’re accepted to a fellowship, will earn an annual stipend. 

It’s a pricey endeavor. Marte’s goal is to raise one million dollars and to eventually expand across the U.S. His fundraising relies on a Kickstarter campaign, donations, and grant writing. He hopes there will be enough money to support 12 fellows for year-long training. So far, Marte has received over one hundred applications from potential fellows and even more applications from companies, mentors, and volunteers, he said. 

Second Chance Studios was originally expected to launch in January but due to the Covid-19 pandemic will now kick off in April 2021. Second Chance Studios’ success will arguably depend on a complex interplay of factors.

The global pandemic has hit fundraising at nonprofits everywhere and spurred mass unemployment. More, the podcast field is saturated with content. However, it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to get into podcasting, potentially lessening the challenges posed by barriers present in many other fields. 

“All you need is an idea, a microphone and internet connection,” said multi-media consultant Nick Castner

There are other costs related to production, including editing software and hosting platforms, as well as post-production services, PL8STORY Podcast host Trista Polo explains. While they are worth this investment in the long-run, some parts of the production process can be outsourced, cutting down on initial costs. 

Marte believes that Second Chance Studios wouldn’t just provide former inmates work, but potentially insulate them from unprecedented shifts in the labor market, such as with Covid-19. 

Most former inmates wind up with manual labor jobs, which are often plagued by low wages and discriminatory hiring practices. Most of these manual labor jobs are performed by people of color, Marte said. The work is in-person. Unlike manual labor, many media and tech jobs can be done remotely. 

“When you come out of the system, jobs that are normally given out are in construction or the food industry and it’s a lot of manual labor,” he said. “Even through Covid times, anyone who has a technical job can do it from home, but anyone with manual labor jobs lost it.”