Mark Anthony Brown
Mark Anthony Brown seems to have been born a thief.
Before he’d turned 18, he’d committed 13 burglaries, according to court documents, including one at a U.S. post office. He faced other struggles, including a suicide attempt, an escape from a juvenile detention center and temporary placement in a foster home. By 1982, he’d been involved in 60 known thefts and burglaries.
After he was on probation, he enrolled in college in 1978 to earn a computer science degree. But a search of where he lived discovered evidence that he’d committed dozens of burglaries.
Brown was diagnosed with kleptomania and borderline personality disorder. In a 20-minute, tearful statement to the court, he pleaded for leniency as the judge pondered a 20-year prison sentence.
"I’m not saying I don’t need to be locked up. If that’s what needs to be done to keep me from stealing, then that’s what I wish. At the same time, I feel I need something else. I honestly feel that the things I’ve done stem from things I was never in control of."
When Mr. Brown got out on parole in 1994, he got a job in technical support. Yet it didn’t last. A parole office had been set on fire, and Mr. Brown was caught with incriminating evidence at the scene of another potential arson. In his apartment, police found stolen items from a rash of business burglaries, including computer equipment and cages filled with exotic birds.
Mr. Brown was sentenced to 116 years in prison.
Years later, after Mr. Brown was transferred from one prison to another, a prison guard named Wesley Heckathorn noticed something odd. Mr. Brown seemed to be getting lots of legal mail, yet he was long past the time when he should have been filing appeals. Mr. Heckathorn convinced his superiors to let him start monitoring all of Mr. Brown’s communications.
What Heckathorn uncovered was the inner workings of what appeared to be a remarkable scam in which Brown, typing away on an electric typewriter in his Idaho prison cell, filed allegedly false claims in major lawsuit settlements around the nation, collecting tens of thousands of dollars. One check alone, from litigation involving pharmaceutical powerhouse GlaxoSmithKline, was for $29,000 – mailed to Brown in prison.
Mr. Brown had fraudulently collected almost $64,000 and deposited it into his prison account, and then transferred it to an investment account.
Brown had no access to the Internet and appears to have had no accomplices or outside help. Instead, investigators believe he used a cherished electric typewriter that he was allowed to keep in his small, spare cell, and legal ads found in national newspapers including the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, to make fraudulent claims in big class-action lawsuits and bankruptcies.
He’s alleged to have typed up professional-looking legal documents, false letters from law firms and more, and made skillful use of the "legal mail" exception for inmates that allows for correspondence with attorneys and judges without review from prison staff. Big checks poured in – Brown’s take in multiparty lawsuits including a $70 million GlaxoSmithKline drug-pricing settlement and a $20 million IBM shareholders’ settlement.
Mr. Brown is now being indicted for mail fraud.
– Prison guard unravels con’s alleged mail fraud, The Spokesman-Review>>
– Idaho inmate accused of continuing fraudulent ways in prison, The Spokesman-Review>>