ORLANDO, Fla. — In February of 2000 a federal court in Orlando sentenced Shalom Weiss to 845-years in federal prison for his role in a fraud scheme that siphoned off about $450 million from an Orlando insurance company, leading to its collapse.
However, Weiss wasn’t in the courtroom for the sentence; he had already fled to South America. After a year on the run he was caught in Austria and extradited back to the US.
This week he was released from prison by former President Donald Trump in a final batch of pardons.
“President Trump commuted the sentence of Shalom Weiss,” wrote the White House in its release. “Mr. Weiss was convicted of racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering, and obstruction of justice, for which he has already served over 18 years and paid substantial restitution. He is 66 years old and suffers from chronic health conditions.”
Weiss had been a key member of the Orlando-based National Heritage Life Insurance Company. According to the 93-count indictment, Weiss and others sucked hundreds of millions of dollars out of the insurer through worthless stocks and mortgages. After the company went under in 15-states, including Florida, they were forced to cover some of the losses.
“These properties were total crap they had hundreds and millions of dollars of liens on them,” says former FBI agent Joe Judge.
Judge spent almost six years investigating Weiss and then another year tracking Weiss after he skipped bail and fled the country.
“If the 29,000 annuitants had to vote, it would be 29 thousand against the pardon and zero for the pardon,” says Judge.
“You could maybe say that too many years were tacked on, but $450-million in fraud is a lot of fraud and there certainly was none of this saintliness about a man who fled the jurisdiction rather than face the music,” says legal expert Paul Rosenzweig, a Senior Fellow at the R-Street Institute. “Why Trump has done something like this it seems to me a combination like with most of his parts a combination of two factors a lack of concern about white-collar criminal activity and then connections, people who know him lobbying him personally.”
The Weiss commutation was supported by those closest to Trump, including former impeachment attorneys, Ken Starr, Alan Dershowitz, and Jay Sekulow.
“This is the case of money talks and in this case, money hollered it screamed it yelled it had a megaphone and you see the result, Shalom Weiss was never without resources to fund his escapades or his appeals and his efforts to get out of jail,” says Judge.
It is unclear if Weiss knew Trump prior to Trump taking office. However, according to an exhibit filed in open court in September of 1998, Weiss, who was serving time at a halfway house on an earlier crime, requested to go home for Passover. Instead, he left the area in a Lear jet provided by the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The Trump Hotel also provided Weiss with a complimentary room. The charges for leaving New York were ultimately dropped.
A family friend of Weiss, who spoke to Nine Investigates, disputes that Weiss ever knew Trump personally. But did say Weiss is “grateful to be released from prison and grateful to have a second chance.”