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Prison consultant pleads guilty in drug program scam

NEW HAVEN  — A consultant who coached people convicted of federal crimes on how to minimize their prison time pleaded guilty Thursday to fraud and conspiracy charges.

Samuel Copenhaver, 48, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was one of three managing partners in RDAP Law Consultants, a firm that had clients feign or exaggerate drug or alcohol problems to gain admission into the federal Residential Drug Abuse Program, or RDAP, prosecutors said.

Prison officials have long suspected abuse of RDAP , because completing the nine-month, 500-hour treatment program is one of only a few ways federal inmates can reduced the time they spend behind bars.

The three were accused of telling clients to falsely inform Bureau of Prisons officials that they had drug and alcohol problems. The consultants would then teach clients how to fake withdrawal symptoms and how to fraudulently obtain medication to treat withdrawal symptoms, so they could show prescriptions to qualify for the program.

The partners also told their clients to begin drinking alcohol daily before going to prison and to show up drunk, according to their indictments.

About 15,600 inmates — nearly 10% of the current federal prison population — participated in the program last year, and thousands more are on waiting lists. To get in, convicts must present evidence they had substance abuse or addiction problems during the year prior to their arrest.

Upon completion, a participant in the program can have up to 12 months cut from the time they must serve and can be placed in a halfway house for the final six months of their sentences.

Officials said the scam undermined the authority of the judicial system to administer fair and impactful sentences and diverted treatment from inmates who really needed it.

Copenhaver pleaded guilty on Thursday and faces up to 25 years in prison at a sentencing hearing scheduled for Jan. 16, 2020.

Partner Tony Pham, 49 of Grand Rapids, is awaiting trial on similar charges. Constance Moerland, of Hudsonville, Michigan, was sentenced in August to two years of probation on a single conspiracy charge.

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