CINCINNATI — A federal judge refused to allow Glen Galemmo, who ran one of the largest Ponzi schemes in Ohio history, out of prison early because of his fear of contracting COVID-19 while behind bars.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Barrett denied Galemmo’s motion to cut nearly a decade from his prison sentence so that he could live at his South Carolina home with his wife, who is a principal at a Catholic school.
“While the Court is mindful of the COVID-19 pandemic, and of its unprecedented magnitude and the extremely serious health risks it presents, a defendant should not be entitled to release based solely on generalized COVID-19 fears and speculation alone,” Barrett wrote in an order filed Thursday.
Galemmo had served 5 1/2 years of his 15 1/2-year sentence for money laundering and wire fraud after pleading guilty in 2013 to bilking 140 families, most of whom were local, out of millions. Many lost their entire retirement, life savings and children’s college tuition money.
“I have a high likelihood of contracting COVlD-19, which would lead to my death,” Galemmo wrote in his April 13 motion for compassionate release for extraordinary and compelling reasons.
At the time, no inmates at the federal prison camp in Williamsburg, South Carolina, where Galemmo is being housed, had tested positive for COVID-19, according to court documents.
Galemmo argued that he was a good candidate for early release because he is first-time nonviolent offender who had good behavior while in prison. He supervised the re-entry program for inmates for 3 1/2 years, helping more than 100 prepare for the outside world by teaching job skills and resume writing.
But that did not persuade Barrett to release Galemmo early – after serving a little more than 35 percent of his prison sentence.
“While the Court applauds Defendant’s efforts at improving himself and others during his incarceration, he has failed to present any ‘extraordinary and compelling reasons’ which warrant his release,” Barrett wrote.
Galemmo wrote that he had an untreated sinus infection and a condition called Keratocenus, which makes it difficult to see without hard contact lens. He also has a family history of diabetes and a degenerative neurological condition.
“Once COVID-19 arrives here, it will spread like wildfire and it will be too late to take action,” Galemmo wrote. “These fans circulate stale air, dust, bacteria and viruses constantly. There are no windows which open and we are on a lockdown 24 hours per day in the housing unit to re-breathe this contaminated air.”
But Barrett disagreed.
“Defendant is 55 years old and has not indicated any specific reasons for health concerns aside from generalized concerns regarding COVID-19 … (he) does not suffer from a serious underlying medical condition that the CDC recognizes as presenting a heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19,” Barrett wrote.
Galemmo promised returns of up to 30% through his Cincinnati investment advisory business, Queen City Investments, before the Internal Revenue Service shut it down in 2013. He handled money for close family and friends, individual investors, trusts, charitable organizations and retirees.
During his fraudulent investment scheme from 2005 to 2013, prosecutors say he received more than $100 million from investors.
Prosecutors say he failed to invest tens of millions and instead used it to buy houses, a Florida vacation condo, a trip to Italy, family cars and private school tuition for his five children.
A judge ordered him to repay $35 million in restitution to victims, but court documents show the vast majority never got their money back.
Galemmo is scheduled to be released in February 2028 after serving the majority of his prison term, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.