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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

COVID-19: Leveling the Playing Field


By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on April 14, 2020

When I first reported to the Federal Prison Camp in Talladega, Alabama to begin serving a 5-year sentence imposed upon me by a Birmingham, Alabama federal judge after a jury of my "peers" convicted me of various "fraud" crimes that I did not commit, I worried that the sustained competitive advantage I had achieved for my Birmingham-headquartered bank, international waste-to-energy company, and Namibian-based oil and gas business would be lost during my term of imprisonment. International market forces, including the Great Recession of 2008, could not stop or slow down the steady drumbeat of growth for these businesses, but deliberate acts of sabotage by federal and state bank regulators and federal prosecutors could, and did. I feared that my businesses would be irreparably damaged while my case is on appeal.

I knew when I attended my sentencing hearing in July of 2019 that a provision in the First Step Act signed by President Donald Trump in December 2018 effectively reduced the time I must serve (under the worst-case scenario) to 30 months in prison. "Rogue" prosecutors, as Trump likes to call them, requested that I serve 17.5 years in prison for so-called "fraud" crimes that were based upon novel prosecution theories that had never before been applied in federal law to any set of facts similar to those presented in my case. These theories had been considered and rejected by career federal prosecutors in New Jersey, based upon the same evidence of "fraud."

The requested 17.5 year sentence amounted to a death sentence, given the fact that I was almost 71-years-old at the time of my sentencing. It exceeded the amount of time imposed upon first-time offenders who committed drug trafficking offenses and murder.

After the New Jersey prosecutors declined to charge me with "fraud", federal prosecutors in Birmingham begged the Securities and Exchange Commission to refer the case to them. These prosecutors presented the case to a cherry-picked and highly manipulated grand jury in Birmingham; they charged my son and me with various acts of "fraud;" and they tried our case before a federal judge who was seeking community acceptance after she was severely ostracized in Birmingham's white community for her handling of a high-profile $2.7 billion Sarbanes-Oxley accounting fraud case in which the widely despised CEO of a Fortune 500/New York Stock Exchange company was acquitted on all 36 felony counts when the trial ended. I was the lead lawyer in this defendant's case, and I eventually became the "sacrificial lamb" in the judge's 2019 bid for community acceptance.

During my trial, prosecutors never challenged the legitimacy of my businesses. Instead, they used a criminal law process to override and nullify the plain language in the governing business agreements and economic participation purchase contracts in order to make authorized business payments, expenditures, and expense reimbursements appear to be "unauthorized" and "personal" in nature. The so-called crime "victims" were represented by commercial lawyers and Wall Street investment firms of their choosing in the purchase transactions in question.

Fortunately, my 19 international energy business partners, all of whom knew my demonstrated business integrity, never abandoned me. Likewise, 23 of the 30 economic participants in my waste-to-energy business rejected direct solicitations from prosecutors to parade them as "victims" of fraud. Seven of the 30 economic participants bought into this victimization pitch and collaborated with the prosecutors. Thankfully, I no longer have to interact with these collaborators.

My dedicated team of world-class management professionals are carrying on with my international energy businesses during my imprisonment. My competitors in the energy business sector, including the ones that could never out-compete us on a level playing field, were eventually able to gain some ground on my energy businesses while I am sidelined, courtesy of Birmingham federal prosecutors and their highly suspect motives.

Divine Intervention

After I settled into life inside the Prison Camp, I began teaching international business to exceptionally bright and intellectually gifted young men who are thirsty for knowledge and hands-on experience about mainstream business principles and operations. Through my teaching, I discovered a goldmine of talent, intellectual acumen, courage, and discipline among my students that would have taken me years to find in the outside world.

In my daily communion with God, he calmed my fears and eased my worries about my family and businesses. My true friends stepped up and provided much needed love and tangible support to my businesses, my family, and me. God repeatedly told me everything would be okay, and I never doubted him.

Then, in December, God started his reckoning with mankind with the onset of a novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. Based upon my extensive exposure to medical pioneers in my family and my strategic relationships within the international medical community, I knew immediately that the virus was the Judgment of God. There was no cure or vaccine for COVID-19. The plague revealed God's absolute superiority over everything in creation. It was invisible, unstoppable, and rapidly inflicting widespread affliction, death, and economic destabilization around the world. People were dying alone in hospital isolation rooms. COVID-19 spared no nation. The world soon experienced a complete COVID-19 meltdown.

The COVID-19 plague has adversely impacted all of my business competitors. Most of them are idle, or completely shut down. Some of them will bankrupt or go out of business.

COVID-19 has also adversely affected various groups of people who participated in railroading my son and me in the Birmingham federal court system. Some of these individuals have been furloughed from their jobs, others are sick, and all of them are subject to restricted movements in their private lives, with no end in sight. I believe the virus will likely touch those who occupy the "Pharaoh" positions in the federal criminal justice system, as well as those who have gratuitously inflicted needless suffering on the "least of these."


Thus far, my businesses are okay. During the 2008 recession, we learned how to successfully manage and survive tough economic times without a government "bailout" or "economic stimulus" handout. Interestingly, the prosecutors in my criminal case focused on whether we paid office overhead expenses on time during the 2008 recession and not on whether we protected and saved the company and its core assets, which we did. When I explained that we were forced to abandon a waste-to-energy project in Sierra Leone in 2014 due to an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, prosecutors told the jury that Ebola was not a valid business reason to shutdown the project, even though the highly infectious disease killed thousands of people in Sierra Leone and caused the country to close its borders as part of a nationwide lockdown.

Today, I watch with amazement as God is leveling the playing field of business and life for me and other "political prisoners" who have been persecuted by those who have never lifted a finger in life to promote equal opportunity in America or the fair administration of justice for people of color and other deserving litigants. God's reckoning will not end until the powerful and privileged members of our global society fundamentally change their ways toward the very groups they tend to oppress.

PHOTO: A Mount Sinai Queens Hospital medical tent in New York City filled with COVID-19 patients.

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