Law & the Courts

The Curious Case of Corey Jacobs: Eric Holder’s Poster Prisoner Is No Choir Boy

Holder in Capitol Hill in 2012 (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Releasing dangerous criminals won’t make us safer.

In defending further federal leniency for drug offenders in an op-ed for Sunday’s New York Times, former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder picked the wrong poster criminal.

In Holder’s telling, the man he singled out comes across as a confused kid who somehow got caught carrying some weed; the evil machinations of the system swept him up and sent him to prison for life for minor crimes.

But his chosen example is one Corey Jacobs, whom Holder describes as a “college student” and “no kingpin.” But Jacobs was no choir boy. He was a drug kingpin and dangerous narco-trafficker, according to the courts that heard his appeal.

According to the case filed against his co–ring leader, Kenneth Kemp:

In July 1990 Kemp joined a cocaine distribution conspiracy that had been ongoing since 1988. He took the place of Duane Wilkey, who was killed in a drug related gun battle. Wilkey and Corey Jacobs were the leaders of the conspiracy, and Kemp became the new co-leader.

After years on the run, Jacobs was finally convicted in 2000 of conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, or more than eleven pounds, and more than 50 grams of crack — threshold amounts for the drug-sentencing guidelines that his offenses exceeded. The minimum street value of Jacobs’s stash would have exceeded $1 million.

In reality, he was moving much more than that on a regular basis, including vast quantities of cocaine between New York City and Richmond, Va. His drug ring succeeded in actually moving 15 kilograms of drugs each week. That’s called trafficking in law-enforcement circles.

If he saw even a fraction of that, Jacobs earned tens of millions of dollars in his five years running a sophisticated drug enterprise. In short, he got rich off of the suffering and misery of others.

As for Holder’s claim that Jacobs was nonviolent, Jacobs’s original drug-ring partner, Duane Wilkey, was shot and killed owing to his hazardous occupation in pursuit of ill-gotten profits. Jacobs himself, according to the prosecutors, not only carried guns but purchased them illegally in furtherance of his drug-distribution efforts. So much for being a nonviolent, low-level offender. Drug kingpin? Check? Menace to society? Check.

Most drug offenders in federal prison don’t get there by accident.

He was no bit player, and he had no remorse for his crimes; court records show that he denied he was even party to the crimes for which he was convicted. Holder should find better examples to make the case that we should release more federal offenders from prison. He may have trouble doing so, though, since most drug offenders in federal prison don’t get there by accident — or even overzealous prosecution. Recently at NRO, I cited the comments of a U.S attorney who works in a border state:

So when the public hears about somebody who is facing a mandatory minimum, what’s often left unreported is that it isn’t the offender’s first rodeo. By definition, they are dealers, not simple possessors, moving significant quantities, and either have a serious criminal history or are leaders or organizers of criminal groups.

That certainly applies to Corey Jacobs. It was his first convicted offense, but it was a doozy.

Holder lamented, incredulously: “Sadly, Mr. Jacobs is no anomaly. There are thousands like him serving sentences in our federal and state systems that are disproportionate to their crimes.”

Holder is right about one thing: Jacobs is no outlier. Most of the guys in federal prison are there for serious crimes. A 2016 overview from the U.S. Sentencing Commission suggests that if let out, many offenders commit further crimes. For drug crimes specifically, ex–federal prisoners are the most likely to re-offend upon release.

According to U.S. Sentencing Commission statistics, in 2013, around 42 percent of federal life sentences were imposed for “drug trafficking” such as that by Jacobs. And as with Jacobs, that’s what they were convicted of — not necessarily the sum of all the crimes they committed. Furthermore, the federal system is precisely designed for kingpins such as Jacobs and his associates, not the low-level offenders that Holder et al. are claiming are the victims of a federal system run amok.

The federal government’s own statistics show that almost a quarter of those in federal prison for drug-related sentences are not even U.S. citizens.

Holder argues that we should increase Obama’s already generous leniency by releasing those narco-traffickers who came here illegally and went on to poison our streets in pursuit of profits.

Releasing them where, you might ask? America’s streets: A 2010 investigation by the Department of Justice’s inspector general found that less than 1 percent of criminally convicted aliens were actually deported upon release.

For all “smart on crime” rhetoric, we should be equally concerned about the damage already done by the criminals behind bars, especially in federal prisons, who are not model citizens by any stretch of the imagination.

Corey Jacobs is a case in point, Mr. Holder.

Sean Kennedy is a visiting fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank based in Rockville, Md., where he studies crime and justice issues.


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