LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The former director of a North Hollywood legal center has been sentenced to seven years in prison and fined $7,500 for his part in a scheme to bilk a convict and his wife out of $50,000.
Frederick George Celani, 44, former director of the Center for Constitutional Law and Justice in North Hollywood, was sentenced in federal court here Friday.
Celani had been convicted by a jury in July of scheming to help Leland O'Grady Glasco of Modesto, Calif., obtain his release from prison. Glasco was convicted in Arkansas on drug charges and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
An Arkansas grand jury had alleged that in 1992 Celani promised Glasco and his wife, Judy, that Glasco could be released from prison if Glasco paid $50,000 to bribe Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert Govar of Little Rock, the prosecutor in the drug case.
U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Eisele described Celani as a "human tragedy." He said Celani was an intelligent man who could have been a success if he had not pursued a life of crime. Government investigators have called him brilliant but have also called him a compulsive liar.
Permitted to speak before sentencing, Celani asked for mercy, saying his troubled life could be blamed on alcoholic parents who kicked him out of their home, forcing him to be just "a kid on the street."
The federal jury convicted Celani of seven counts of wire fraud and one count of inducing interstate travel with intent to defraud.
Celani, who was known as Fred Sebastian, and his center promised inmates that lawyers at the center could get their convictions overturned. Celani, a paralegal, opened the center in 1991, not long after he was paroled from federal prison after serving time for racketeering and fraud.
At one time, the center represented Damian Williams, after he was charged with attempted murder in the beating of trucker Reginald Denny during the Los Angeles riots.
Celani had contended that he was working undercover for the FBI and that the center was created at the request of an FBI agent and Celani's federal parole officer in Los Angeles as a secret information-gathering operation.
Federal prosecutors in Washington said Celani fabricated the story.
The interest of authorities in Celani's North Hollywood operation has not ended with his conviction. In some ways, it has only begun.
The legal cases of dozens of center clients were left in limbo when it shut down last year with Celani's arrest. Federal authorities are investigating in hopes of tracing potentially millions of dollars the defunct center received from clients across the country. The California State Bar also is investigating.
Celani has had a long history of run-ins with the law. In 1974, he posed as a real estate wizard in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., and swindled investors out of more than $100,000. He was convicted of fraud and served time at the federal prison in Attica.
In 1985, he was convicted of racketeering and fraud in Springfield, Ill., where he and an associate bilked $3.8 million from clients who invested in phony tax shelters and limited partnerships.