When the rapper Stat Quo was busted on charges of participating in a scheme to steal millions of frequent-flier miles, naturally he hired a lawyer, but still he was freaking out. “So I went on YouTube. And I was just looking up, you know, ‘What do you do when you have been named in an indictment?’” Stat Quo, legally Stanley Benton, came across the same videos Mejia found and started, in his words, “binge watching.” Every topic that was haunting him — what to do when you’re actually indicted, picking a lawyer, preparing a sentencing memorandum — each had its own video, narrated with Paperny’s trademark confidence. “OK,” Stat Quo remembers thinking, “this guy knows what he’s talking about.” So he hired him.
On the morning I caught up with Stat Quo, he had just gotten back from a Pasadena kitchen where he was cooking breakfast for the homeless three mornings a week. He started doing it years ago, long before he got in trouble, and stayed with it. “Actually, it’s important for me to see that, you know what I mean? Because you know this Hollywood stuff that I’m in — you will lose sight of reality sometimes, you know. My friends’ houses look like malls.”
His full story was pitch perfect. He’d never tangled with the law before, and he has a family. Still, he had the usual long-winded take on his own innocence (his friend had offered him discounted airline tickets, and he bought them without knowing that this friend had gotten them by hacking into other people’s accounts and stealing their miles). But when Stat Quo sat down to work on his narrative, he totally got it. He knew that anyone walking into a pre-sentencing interview is presumed to be a hardened criminal, but a Black rapper?
“My case was out of Dallas, Texas. And let’s be honest here,” he said, “not the most progressive state for a Black man. And listen, I’m not Drake black. I’m, like, Shaka Zulu black. You know what I’m saying?” Three of the other defendants who used these stolen miles got real time. “One guy got up there trying to explain all kinds of [expletive] and making excuses. That’s the wrong thing to do. But he didn’t have anyone to tell him, because that’s just your natural instinct when you get in front of somebody. ‘Judge, wait a minute, man. I ain’t do nothing. Come on now. Hold on, man. You know, I’m just out here’ — slam.” That guy was sentenced to two and a half years.
“My judge saw me differently,” he said. “She’s like, ‘Based on what I’ve read about you, you shouldn’t even be in here.’” In the sentencing hearing, Judge Jane Boyle said aloud, “I wonder if he even should have been prosecuted.” Then she said, “I’d like to give you six months probation, but I can’t.” Then she turned to a court officer for clarification. “Do I have to give him,” she asked, “a year probation?” Informed that the guidelines required at least one year of probation, she imposed exactly that. “That’s because she was able to read my story,” he said.
Much of Paperny’s advice comes from his own attempts to avoid prison when the Ponzi scheme he enabled collapsed. After being nabbed, he figured he would outsmart the feds with a series of artful dodges and deceptions. In the midst of constructing this web of lies, Paperny insisted that he take a lie-detector test. “I immediately Googled for information on polygraph examinations,” Paperny writes in his self-published confessional, “Lessons From Prison.” He found a $350 online course, which taught him all the “ostensibly proven techniques” to evade the lie detector. “By tightening my sphincter when answering questions,” he wrote, “I supposedly could manipulate the machine’s findings of truth to suit my purpose.” And yet even though he “practiced so fervently” and then “squeezed my innards when appropriate,” the polygraph administrator informed him afterward that “the machine indicated with an accuracy measurement of better than 99.99 percent” that he was lying.
“Justin,” he added, “you’re going to prison.”
Once that reality set in, Paperny prepared the same way everyone does, and how his clients still do — Googling “what happens when you go to prison?” He learned a jumble of information, but then the day came. Paperny reported to the Taft federal prison camp in California, changing his street clothes for a prison outfit. He quickly discovered that there are lots of rules in prison that Quora doesn’t have the answers to, and routines you have to discover by yourself.