Bad Deal

John Ballis was a crook. But he expected the federal government to keep its end of a bargain.

Last April, in order to clear his legal decks, Ballis pleaded guilty to the charges against him in the Eastern District of Texas and was sentenced to 41 months, to be served concurrently with his other sentence.

Ballis is still waiting for Clinton to reply to the letters from Driscoll and Hughes. But considering the president's own legal problems, Ballis isn't optimistic that Clinton will cut anyone loose any time soon. Ballis's best -- and probably last -- chance for freedom is a motion currently before U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon. In it, he requests his release from prison on the grounds that the government violated his immunity.

Meanwhile, the former high-flying developer passes time by cleaning prison offices and by getting outside as much as possible. And he points proudly to his completion of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.

Despite his efforts at rehab, Ballis still appears to have a problem accepting responsibility for his own actions -- or his own debts. When the subject of his millions in unpaid loans is broached, he grows defensive: "You don't put people in jail for not paying their debts."

And besides, he says, he's made some restitution payments. He says the FDIC released him from his debt after he coughed up $3 million. That figure, however, came as a surprise to an FDIC spokesperson. According to FDICrecords, though Ballis may have made payments on some outstanding debts, so far, he has paid the FDIC only $325 of the $4.26 million he owes.

The restitution claim appears to be one more time that Ballis has manipulated the truth, one more time that he's broken the rules that other people live by. Of course, he still expects other people to keep their end of bargains. Asked why anyone should care that federal prosecutors bent the rules to put him away, Ballis hardly pauses before delivering what he sees as an irrefutable argument.

"Because," he says, "a deal's a deal.

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