Ex-Merrill Broker Tom Buck Loses Bid for Early Prison Release
A federal judge has turned down a request for early release from prison made by Tom Buck, Merrill Lynch’s former top broker in Indiana, though his lawyer said he is still hoping to qualify for home confinement under an emergency directive issued by U.S. Attorney General William Barr.
U.S. District Judge James R. Sweeney on Tuesday ruled that the 66-year-old prisoner failed to demonstrate the “extraordinary and compelling reasons” to warrant a sentence reduction under the 2018 federal First Step Act.
Buck’s asthma appeared to be “well-controlled,” and the prison where he is being held is not a “hotspot” for coronavirus, the judge ruled, noting only three cases of the disease. Buck also failed to show that he still suffered from an immunodeficiency issue that was diagnosed 20 years ago, Sweeney wrote.
Buck pled guilty in 2017 to overcharging his clients by as much as $2 million, and has been barred by regulators and ordered to disgorge $2.6 million.
He is set for release in January 2022.
Buck is still hoping that the Federal Bureau of Prisons will release him to home confinement under Barr’s April directive that Bureau case managers review all inmates with Covid-19 risk factors.
“Tom does not deserve a death sentence,” said Patrick Shoulders, a partner at Ziemer, Stayman, Weitzel & Shoulders, LLP in Evansville, Indiana, who represents Buck. “It is our hope that the BOP will comply with the AG’s strong concern for prisoners over age 65.”
Barr’s directive authorized release of at-risk inmates who do not pose a societal danger and are within 18 months of their release date after having served a majority of their sentence. Buck will qualify for the 18-month limit on July 21.
Judge Sweeney’s ruling left the door open to possible compassionate release under federal law if conditions worsen.
“The government acknowledges that Mr. Buck is not dangerous and is unlikely to recidivate,” he wrote. “The court concludes that Mr. Buck could be released to supervised release with appropriate conditions without posing a danger to any person or the community should future ‘extraordinary and compelling reasons’ come to pass.”
However, the CARES Act that Barr cited for his emergency authority does not allow the judge to order sentence commutation under the 2018 prison reform First Step Act. The CARES Act “expands the powers of the Attorney General and the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, but not the courts,” he wrote.
Shoulders said he is hoping to extend to Buck some of the same considerations that “many federal prisoners” have been receiving.
President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul J. Manafort was released to home confinement in May after serving less than two years of his seven-and-a-half year sentence. Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen began home confinement in May after serving half of his three-year sentence in prison.
Buck, who had worked at Merrill for all but three months of his 33-year brokerage, was managing about $1.3 billion for around 800 household accounts from 2012 through 2014, when he qualified as Barron’s top-ranked broker in Indiana. The SEC said he lied to at least 50 customers by saying he would put a limit on their commissions, by telling them he was within the limits. He also impermissibly exercised discretion in some accounts and failed to offer clients a cheaper fee-based option, the regulator said.
Since discharging Buck in March 2015, Merrill has reached settlements valued at at least $5.4 million with 31 of his customers.
Buck worked for less than four months at RBC Wealth Management after leaving Merrill, but has not been registered with Finra since mid-2015, according to his BrokerCheck history.