The Reckoning

An Essay By John DiMenna.

Originally Published at Minutes Before Six. Reprinted With Permission.

The first thing my lawyer told me to do was to write down the things I did, which was more complicated than I thought. And he said if I left anything out and the prosecutor found out, I would be in even more trouble. So, I started with the worst thing I did, which so embarrassed me I couldn’t write the other things. I became confused if I should separate the bad things I did that were only to cover up the first bad thing which, looking back, wasn’t so bad. But once I did the first bad thing, I had to do another to cover it up, which led to another bad thing and then another until I had no choice but to keep doing more bad things. When I look back, I was just trying to do things so I could be good again, which is what I was always trying to be, but now I did so many bad things just to be good that I can never be good again. 

And that was the crazy loop going through my head driving to my lawyer’s office for my sentencing hearing.


My lawyer told me the longer the delay, the better. After three years of waiting, I started to believe it would never happen. It was early April, but more like winter than spring. A long nasty squall from the northeast had taken out any early bloom the day before. I drove to my lawyer’s office. He greeted me like the mortician when my father died. Everything was different about him. Everything I liked about him was wrong: the clean-cut kid, the nice way about him, the warm greeting, and the smile, like all would be fine. But a dead body in the casket was lurking. The silent elephant in the room, I’m the dead body. 

We drove to the hearing in his car. I was in the front of a new SUV with leather seats and a strong new-car smell. I never thought of it as the scent of death before, but it was reminiscent of the flowers in the wake hall. His assistant, a young female associate, was quiet in the back, her apprehension apparent.

“I’m Ms. Taylor,” she said with an awkward smile. “ Nice to meet you.” The tip-off: it’s not going to be good. 

The drive there was a blur. While searching for the garage, we passed the court House. A classic structure with four tall, white imposing columns, it evoked something serious and ominous inside. We entered a dark garage with low ceilings and drove up level after level to find a parking spot. A crazy paranoia set in. It seemed like everything was in league against me, and the crowded carpark a portent of things to come. Finally, we found a tiny spot on the last level, requiring three passes. Exiting, I banged the new car door. No one noticed or said anything. It was a long walk down the ramps, circling the levels, and I almost tripped on the cracked concrete, looking for others entering the garage. But I didn’t see anyone I knew. The slow, deliberate punishment they planned for me evolved for so long that sometimes I thought they’d forgotten about me. 

We entered a large open lobby with marble floors and high ceilings, greeted by security men wearing starched uniforms standing in front of steel and glass barriers. Shoes scraping the floors and a line of people removing everything from their pockets and removing their shoes created a steady din. They slowly filled plastic vials with wallets, belts, phones, and pocket change. Some looked used to it; others stumbled with their phones and briefcases. One woman struggled with her purse, turned towards me and flashed an embarrassed look. I felt badly for her, but for some reason I was grateful. Approaching the monitor, I paused for the sign to enter. The guard waved me on without recognition that I was the defendant, the criminal and without any urgency in his routine. There was a moment of false hope while he waved me through. I cleared the area with the rest of the crowd. No one was talking. My lawyers walked silently with me. There was a solemnity about everyone as we followed the others, removing belts and shoes and piling items into the plastic spheres. I knew that they didn’t want to be with me any more than I wanted to be there with them. The elevator was crowded but silent. No one in them I recognized.

The courtroom represented my greatest fear. Everything terrible about me would come to light. When all was well, I sat next to an investor’s wife some time ago. She told me she trusted me. She and her husband were so grateful to have invested in my company, a real estate investment company I founded twenty years earlier. Sometime later, her husband called me a sociopath. I thought about them. Maybe he was right. I want to believe that I’m a person of conscience. But when you confess in public, there’s no end to the possible and frightening categories of your personal profile. My wife has a baby picture of me with an expression that says, “I have no idea what’s coming, but it’s not going to be good.” In my most authentic moments of self-reflection, I believe that I’m a good person or at least aspire to be a good person. But I knew there would be only brutal revelations in that courtroom without any mitigating context. I would be framed as a con man, a fraudster, a liar, worst of the worst, and in front of the world.

 A center aisle separated two sections of the crowded courtroom, like a church at a wedding, on one side friends and family, on the other side investors, lenders, vendors and former associates. I didn’t look at anyone. Like on television, there were two tables in front of the gallery. My lawyer seated me in the middle. He and his associate took out some papers. He smiled to reassure me. But it wasn’t selling. There, in the reality of the courtroom, it was like the curtain in a real drama had gone up and I realized he’d been sugarcoating everything. The juror’s gallery was in front of me, and twelve empty chairs to the right of us. An eerie tableau. There was no jury in my proceeding. My guilt long established, there was only my punishment to be determined. There were chairs and others in uniform seated to the left of us. In the center, and to the right was a court reporter, the judge’s desk raised several feet above the floor, like the altar at a Catholic mass. It was an elegant courtroom, like one constructed in an earlier time, all the surfaces a combination of rich, heavy wood and thick carpet throughout. There were microphones directly in front of both attorneys’ tables, a podium, and a mic in the center of the room for speakers to address the judge. Other men in uniform milled around near the jurors’ box, and one of them spoke to the prosecutor and the FBI men. They appeared to know each other. There was a lot of hushed conversation and smiling among them. They looked comfortable. This was their place of work, loitering around with smiles and what seemed like everyday conversation. They looked like the good guys. I wanted to be with them.  

Everyone was focused on a floor-to-ceiling door at the back of the room where the judge would enter. It seemed like a long delay. There was a growing commotion behind me in the gallery. The prosecutor was reading papers on his lap when the bailiff finally called for all to rise. It was abrupt, and his papers fell to the floor as he rushed to his feet. The sound of everyone rising filled the room. The judge entered the courtroom through the high door and into his chair in one continuous movement. A round Black man with a kind face, he seemed to float on robes to his seat like a great wizard. He wasn’t fat, but looked like someone who didn’t have time to exercise. There was something thoughtful, deliberative about him. For a moment, I was hopeful.

“There are only four speakers for the prosecution,” my lawyer said, leaning intome and gently holding my forearm.

“Is the other side speaking first?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “And that’s good. Our speaking last will allow us to counter them.” 

He then got up and approached the prosecutors’ table. I couldn’t hear what they were saying. But they were both smiling and interacting like colleagues. When he returned, he leaned in and retook my forearm.

“There are seven speakers.”

“How many do we have?”

“Five, including your family.”

“But that includes my wife and daughter and me, which means we only have two speakers.”

“We have excellent speakers,” he said. “They’ll be great. Going second is a big deal,” he said, patting my hand. I wasn’t reassured. I was trembling.


“David Patten, your honor,” the prosecutor announced, introducing the first speaker. “One of Mr. DiMenna’s investors.”

David Patten was a close friend of my partner, Bill Watson. He was a short man with a noticeable gut, thinning dark hair, and black-rimmed glasses, and when he spoke to you, he often put his hand next to his mouth like he was telling you a secret. Much of the time, telling you a joke. He was an early investor. Others told me he bragged about his investments with my company. His role was often hyped as a special advisor. None of that was true. In a lengthy brief to the court, my attorney portrayed my offense as an outlier event during a lifetime of good behavior. David argued against it.

“Your honor,” he began, then paused momentarily, looking down at his notes, but remained composed and continued. “Thank you. Your Honor, my name is David Patten, and I am at least one of 600 victims of John DiMenna. I say 600 victims because of all of the families, children and grandchildren who have had and will have their lives altered because of Mr. DiMenna’s dishonesty. I have had the opportunity to read Mr. DiMenna’s memorandum in aid of sentencing submitted to the court dated March 5th. Some of it is filled with inaccuracies and omissions. For example, Mr. DiMenna states that he founded Seaboard (my investment company) in 1992. In fact, Seaboard was started and founded by William Watson and Thomas Riley (my business partners,) who gave Mr. DiMenna a job and minority partner status. Mr. DiMenna’s character is referenced throughout the brief, and states that the sentence should be reduced for one mistake. Forging signatures on over 40 unauthorized loans in the amount of 140 million and over 236 million forged guarantees from December 2008 through November 1st, 2015, plus other bank guarantees, is hardly one mistake. It’s many, many calculated mistakes over a nine-year period. Soliciting money from existing and new investors who trusted him and saying that equity was available in select Seaboard properties when it wasn’t was nothing more than a Ponzi scheme. Hardly one mistake. Doctoring company books and records on an ongoing basis to cover his tracks with his managing partners is hardly one mistake. Was he trying to save the business, as he claims? Hardly. His partners and victims did make one mistake; we trusted him. He knowingly violated this trust time and again, and his sentence should reflect that.” 

When he finally finished—it seemed like forever—he turned to my side but never looked at me and seemed to strut back to his seat with a satisfied but nasty expression. A lot of what he said was untrue. The company was founded by me, based on my business plan. I was not a minority partner. I owned fifty per cent of the voting interests from day one until I resigned. I sourced every deal. There were not 40 unauthorized loans or 236 million in forged guarantees. But there were forged guarantees and unauthorized loans, no matter the number. But I couldn’t say anything, nor would it have made a difference. I didn’t say a word after he sat down. Six more speakers followed one after the other. But after David Patten, none were necessary. He eviscerated me. 

The next speaker, Chris Watson—my partner, Bill Watson’s wife—had been a good friend of my wife. We vacationed together and became close friends for over twenty years. She said I had destroyed their lives. They were bankrupt and had liens on their homes. Her husband’s health had been compromised; their family shattered. She was a compelling speaker. It was torture to listen. I had great respect for her. She had been our real estate broker and had found the house we lived in for the past twenty years. I understood her anger. It was such a betrayal.

Next was a lawyer representing another investor. He spoke with a thick Southern accent. The acoustics were poor in the room. I couldn’t understand most of his comments other than my name, which he kept repeating and mispronouncing as he pointed to me repeatedly. Another investor read his letter to the judge. A big man, with a voice that carried, I could hear every word. He had a grandchild who was compromised. He had invested funds with Seaboard for him. All of it was gone, he said.

“John DiMenna is a crook,” he said.

Two more investors, a husband and wife, spoke separately. I knew them socially. I didn’t like either of them. Both were articulate, but she was more compelling. She was sarcastic and berated my claims of remorse. I had proposed community service as a punishment—participation in developing a community to create new affordable housing for veterans. She claimed she could find “No such organization.” The organization was real, it just hadn’t been formerly filed yet.

I thought they were the last speakers. I was numb by then. But there was one more. Judith Harrison. She and her husband were early investors. A tall woman with dark hair and thick glasses, she evoked the strict librarian who intimidated anyone talking into silence. She read from a letter that she had previously submitted to the court. 

“John DiMenna showed not an ounce of remorse,” she said. When she finished, she was the only one who looked at me. A long, angry expression like she had planned it for a long time.

Afterwards, two of my friends spoke in my defense. Then, my daughter and my wife. They were complimentary, articulate, and sincere. My wife said beautiful things about me, things she had never said to me before. But I can’t remember them—maybe because they only made me feel worse. 

It was now my turn. I would be the last speaker. But I was a mess. Legs buckling, my chest pounding, I walked to the microphone, all resolve and preparedness gone. The size of the podium was small. I couldn’t place my papers. I read them awkwardly. My lawyer told me not to defend myself or challenge what others had said about me. Only apologize and be remorseful. 

I read my speech as he directed as best as I could and clear of any explanation or context. But I couldn’t feel the words—too overwhelmed by the moment, the circumstances, and the feeling of the crowd behind me. In reality, I was torn between I’m sorry and fuck you. You try this. What about what I went through for the past twenty years, kissing your asses, sleepless nights, dealing with impossible partners for all that time, fighting with tenants, brokers, lenders, bureaucrats, politicians, worrying about employees, family, investors and charities forever asking for more. I fucked up. I’m sorry. Truly sorry. But I was trying. Trying hard. I resigned when they asked me. I gave up everything, was wiped out financially and took the blows. I publicly humiliated myself and turned myself in before an investigation was even underway. But it’s never enough. Nothing is enough. Even everything isn’t enough. But I didn’t say any of that. I just read my prepared statement that my attorney approved.

“Judge Bolden, I stand here before many of the victims of my conduct and address them because I know they feel betrayed, lied to and have suffered substantial financial reversals. No words of apology can change what has occurred, no words of remorse, comforting or reassuring. I can only confirm that their feelings of outrage and anger are appropriate. I stand here and confront my transgressions, deceit, and cowardice to confront what I needed and what would have no doubt avoided this terrible episode. I feel compelled to publicly state my transgressions in front of my children, my wife, my friends, and business associates I have known for 35 years. The humiliation is incalculable, but I can only face it head-on. So, while I am facing you and making my statement to all of you, I violated every precept that I learned from my parents, my Catholic schools, my college professors, and my mentors in business, precepts that I have ascribed to my children and others as inviolate principles in living a worthy life. It is a constant reminder every time I look in the mirror. There are no magic words. I can only say how sorry I am to have disappointed so many people so completely and, even worse, rendered financially compromised so many who had entrusted so much to me. There is no path to forgiveness, and I’m not looking for one. I don’t expect understanding because there is no understanding, only explanations, and none are palatable. I would give anything to undo all the damage that has resulted from my actions. I just want the victims and the court to know that the hardship I have caused is not lost on me. I never expect their forgiveness; just know I will never forgive myself.”

I stumbled back to my seat. I didn’t look at anyone. My wife’s hat was the only thing I saw. A black, wide-brimmed Belfry I bought for her in Italy during our last vacation two years earlier. I wanted to say much more, to defend myself. Provide some context. Some explanations. It didn’t mean excuses. But my lawyer said I couldn’t, and I didn’t think what I said was enough. The judge called for a recess while he deliberated and would return with his decision. The recess was long, a good sign, my lawyer said. It was hard to be hopeful. I was lost in all the revelations. DiMenna: the coward, the liar, the phony, the bad guy, the criminal. All my family would now be tainted by my name. “That’s his cousin, his nephew, his brother, his brother-in-law, his sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, his wife’s cousin’s, his former investor, partner, best friend, son, daughter, grandchild (worst of all)” and on and on.

When the judge returned, he immediately asked me to stand. My legs were wobbly. He spoke for fifteen minutes or more. The acoustics in the room were lacking. I could only grasp bits and pieces, but it was some kind of existential message. I sensed a literary, poetic sensibility from him, and it momentarily elevated my expectations. There was a reference to Trevor Noah and his book. Something about choices. I was unable to track the narrative arc. There was no outrage in his tone. Then my sentence rolled off his lips like a thoughtless preposition. “Eighty-five months,” he said.

 For a moment, I thought he said eighteen months. But my daughter broke out into sobs behind me, and my lawyer wrote down eighty-five on a pad in front of him. It seemed to be a nervous reaction. I stared at the number on his pad: 85. That was the number. The judge came off the bench and started shaking hands with everyone. My lawyer said this was unusual but standard practice for this judge. He approached our table and came to me with his hand out. It didn’t make sense to me. I shook it but never felt his hand. “Good luck,” he said, then departed to the government’s table. From the time he got off his chair, shook everyone’s hand and exited through the floor-to-ceiling door behind him, it seemed to happen in one continuous flash. All I could see were his robes.

And then I turned around, and everyone looked stunned and confused by what happened. My attorney seemed unable to say anything. I asked him about an appeal. He said I waived my right to one. He looked like everyone else. He had no words. He didn’t even try. Eighty-five months. At seventy-five years old, a life sentence. The government’s table was quiet. The prosecutor told my lawyer he was surprised by the length of the sentence. After the judge departed, I was taken away by a marshal for fingerprinting and to sign my bond for release. I was told to self-report to prison in ninety days. The Marshall was deferential. He told me I would be released right after the fingerprinting.

No one wanted to come near me when I returned to the courtroom. The family and friends supporting me stood silent and distant, all waiting for me to do or say something. Even my investors looked stunned. I think, for everyone, we were somewhere, and someplace we never thought we’d be. And I realized what an ugly place the courtroom is, where all the bad things in life come to their deliverance. It seemed like everyone felt bad for themselves, and no one was off the hook, not even the judge. My wife and I returned to the hotel, a dreary third-rate room with an overwhelming fragrance of commercial soap. The reality of the moment was a frightening unreality, the way hard truth always presents itself.

John DiMenna is a member of the Ministry’s White Collar Support Group™ that meets every Monday evening on Zoom.

We highly recommend Brent Cassity’s podcast, Nightmare Success, in which he interviews justice-impacted people from all walks of life. He is a White Collar Support Group™ member with a mission to be of service to our community. Please check it out on Spotify or on your favorite podcast platform.