For many years some saw Jamie Olis as the poster child for the extremes of white collar criminal sentencing. On Friday afternoon he became simply a dad, husband and son when he headed home for good after serving a five-year, three-month prison sentence.
Olis, his wife and daughter leaving the courthouse during his 2004 trial. (David J. Phillip/AP)
In 2004 Olis was found guilty on six counts for his role in a gas trading and finance scheme at Houston-based Dynegy, where he did accounting work. Called Project Alpha, the transaction helped Dynegy inflate its reported cash flow by as much as $300 million. Olis’ boss and a co-worker were indicted along with him but they cooperated with investigators.
When U.S. District Judge Sim Lake sentenced Olis to 24 years in prison it was thought to be one of the longest prison sentences for a white-collar crime. Lake accepted the government’s calculation that shareholders suffered more than $100 million in losses related to the deal and said he felt he was required by federal sentencing guidelines to hand up such a stiff sentence.
But the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals later overturned Olis’ sentence, saying the court calculated damages in the case incorrectly and shouldn’t have treated sentencing guidelines as mandatory. After a lengthy hearing on the issues of investor damages, he was re-sentenced to 6 years.
In February of this year he was moved from a San Antonio-area federal detention center to a half-way house which gave him daily contact with his family.The 7 months taken off the 6-year sentence is a typical reduction for good behavior.
Some felt Olis was made a scapegoat by the local office of the Department of Justice when it was left out of the federal investigations against Enron because of conflicts of interest and in search of a big white collar case of its own. Documents released through a civil lawsuit against Dynegy showed the former U.S. Attorney put considerable pressure on the company to cooperate and make Olis’ defense as difficult as possible.
Olis also gave a hint at why he couldn’t make the same deal his co-workers did during testimony in the civil case. He said a prosecutor took him aside and told him they knew he was a small fish and that if he would testify that several others at the company were co-conspirators they would give him a break:
“What they wanted was for me to tell the story that I and everyone else engaged in a conspiracy. And I couldn’t ruin those people’s lives. I’m Catholic. And I can’t do that.”
Olis and his family now live in the San Antonio area.