A woman less than halfway into her five-year prison sentence walked free in Texas on Monday after a federal judge ruled her constitutional rights had been violated when a federal prosecutor at the Leavenworth Detention Center listened to her phone calls with her attorneys.
Michelle Reulet, of Montgomery, Texas, was 37 years old when she was sentenced in 2017. She and a co-defendant owned a business, Bully Wholesale, in the Houston area. The government alleged the company illegally sold designer drugs marketed as incense, potpourri and shoe deodorizer.
Reulet was charged with drug-related crimes and pleaded guilty in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas, in January 2017 to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. She was sentenced to five years in prison and three years of supervised release. She was expected to be released from the federal prison in Bryan, Texas, in September 2020.
"No words," said Reulet's attorney, Melanie Morgan, after speaking to her client following her release. "Just tears of relief and joy."
In a statement, Stephen McAllister, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas, said the revelations about one of his prosecutors eavesdropping on Reulet's conversations with her attorneys "were not previously known to the leadership of the U.S. Attorney's office."
"In light of those facts, and given the relatively short time remaining on Ms. Reulet's sentence, we believed the best choice to serve the ends of justice was not to opposed the public defender's motion to amend Ms. Reulet's sentence to time served," McAllister said.
Reulet’s case is the latest instance of a defendant’s sentence being reduced as a result of evidence that federal prosecutors eavesdropped on recordings of attorney-client phone calls made at the Leavenworth Detention Center. Reulet was detained there after she was indicted and taken into custody.
The owner and operator of the prison, CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) routinely recorded outgoing inmate calls, including calls with their attorneys that were supposed to be off limits.
That disclosure more than two years ago provoked outrage among defense attorneys, who have been pressing ever since to find out whether and to what extent federal prosecutors may have been privy to the calls.
During a hearing earlier this month, the Federal Public Defender confronted a now-retired federal prosecutor, Tanya Treadway, with her handwritten notes detailing the contents of about a dozen recorded conversations between Reulet and her attorneys.
Treadway, who had been subpoenaed to testify by the public defender, did not deny that she had listened in on the recordings. Rather, she said they were not privileged or did not concern Reulet’s drug case or weren’t “important.”
After her testimony, Treadway moved to supplement the record with documents that are currently under seal, claiming they were “necessary for a fair and balanced review” of the issues before the court. Without those documents, Treadway wrote, the issues would be “forever mired in mischaracterization and misunderstanding, untethered to their proper context.”
Since the documents remain sealed – the judge has yet to rule – it’s not known what light they might shed on Treadway’s actions.
After Treadway testified, the Federal Public Defender moved for permission from the court to disclose her handwritten notes “to the appropriate disciplinary authorities.” Although Treadway wasn’t named in the motion, the context made it clear the public defender was referring to her.
Reulet had several attorneys, including a family law practitioner in Texas who represented her in a child custody battle after Reulet was indicted and taken into custody. Treadway appears to have eavesdropped on conversations between Reulet and that attorney in addition to conversations with her other attorneys.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.