In 2008 Michael Benanti founded Prisoner Assistant, a company he designed to help prisoners rehabilitate themselves and prepare for a future beyond incarceration. Benanti offered his clients education, support, and real-world tools, to bring the outside world to their fingertips. According to official tax returns, Prisoner Assistant grew exponentially each year.
In November of 2015 Benanti was arrested for being a passenger in a stolen vehicle and was held for two months without bail. During this time the driver, Brian Witham, implicated Benanti in multiple kidnappings and bank robberies in Knoxville, Tennessee. Federal Prosecutor David Lewen would later tell the court and jury that Prisoner Assistant was a sham- a fraud from its inception. He would go on to say that Benanti was stealing money from his clients and to cover up the theft, Benanti kidnapped family members of bank employees and forced them to empty bank vaults.
David Lewen’s claim that Benanti’s company was a sham is untrue. Prisoner Assistant provided over 500 services to thousands of prisoners across the nation. In January 2014, the highly regarded law firm of Winston & Strawn, did an independent audit of the accounts and services provided by Prisoner Assistant. Their findings concluded that Benanti kept superior records of every transaction and found nothing out of order. This was chronicled by the January 2014 in the Wall Street Journal.
Benanti was never charged with the theft or embezzlement from Prisoner Assistant. The closest David Lewen came to demonstrate any misappropriation of funds from Prisoner Assistant, was the identification of two checks, drawn on Prisoner Assistant accounts in the amount of $14,000. These checks were sent to Kathy McGrath, who was both an employee of Prisoner Assistant and the girlfriend of Brian Witham. Brian was also an employee of Prisoner Assistant and both he and Kathy had access to company accounts in order to facilitate client services.
McGrath’s bank records were used as evidence in Benanti’s trial. They showed that McGrath did indeed receive the $14,000 and then withdrew it from her account in cash. McGrath testified as a witness for the prosecution and stated to the jury that she could not remember receiving the checks, withdrawing the cash, or what the money was used for. This evidence was offered to implicate Benanti in the theft from Prisoner Assistant and as a motive for bank robbery. Lewen misled the jury and allowed McGrath to perjure herself about her involvement in the bank robberies and her and Witham theft from Prisoner Assistant.
Evidence at trial and Witham’s testimony would lead the jury to believe that Benanti received approximately 275K from bank robbery proceeds, and that the lion’s share of that was deposited back into Prisoner Assistant by Benanti to pay for embezzled money. A careful review of all of Benanti’s personal and business accounts showed no unaccountable large deposits. Prosecutor Lewen would repeatedly tell the jury that Benanti plowed bank robbery money into Prisoner Assistant accounts with no supporting facts.These unsupported, uncharged and untrue allegations of misconduct hung over the trial and were perpetuated by Lewen and Knoxville News Sentinel reporter Jamie Satterfield.
Lewen and the FBI subpoenaed documents from Citizens Bank concerning Benanti’s accounts. Citizens Bank was told that the accounts were misused and Citizens Bank without notice or reason, confiscated approximately 100K from Benanti.
In late 2017, after Benanti’s trial, Benanti requested bank statements and learned that after Benanti’s incarceration, and without his authority, Citizens Bank made large withdrawals, thereby emptying and closing the accounts. This information was initially reported to Benanti via Lorissa Harris from the office of the chairman John Scott of Citizens Bank. In February 2018, Benanti requested information from Citizens Bank about what funds were returned to his former clients and expressed a desire to have the refunds made correctly. Citizen’s Bank litigation group refused to provide any information at all.
In March 2020, Benanti filed a lawsuit against Citizen Bank in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Case No. 3:19-CV-2162. Benanti alleged that Citizens Bank breached contract and had no reason or authority to confiscate Benanti’s funds.
Citizens Bank retained the prestigious law firm ReedSmith out of Philadelphia, PA, who immediately moved to dismiss the lawsuit in June 2020. Mack Fidanza Esq. argued several technical grounds why the lawsuit was insufficient, but he never addressed Citizens Bank’s arbitrary confiscation of Prisoner Assistant funds and never offered a reason for their actions. Benanti admitted that the complexity of the law surrounding financial services was beyond his understanding. On July 9 2020, Benanti therefore asked Honorable Judge Karoline Mehalchick to appoint him counsel.
It is plain to see that Citizen Bank does not protect a client’s interests against government agencies, nor does it require government officials to provide proof of allegations. Clearly Citizens Bank does not do their own independent investigation and draws conclusions without the client’s input.
At least when it comes to his misconduct in US V Benanti 3:15-CR-177, David Lewen is a rogue actor, representing his own interests and not that of Lady Justice. He has been removed from Benanti’s case, however his boss United States Attorney Douglas Overbey, would say it is coincidence. There are several formal complaints against David Lewen for his bad behavior in prosecuting Michael Benanti. Honorable Judge Thomas Varlan, who presided over the trial, has been reluctant to hear misconduct issues against a member of his court. There are currently about eight motions docketed, half of which relate to Lewen’s misconduct pending in the trial court. Because of Lewen’s misconduct, it is likely that Benanti will be released from prison, instead of spending four lifetimes behind bars.