Fly away, little jailbird

Reports of Steven Russell's death were greatly exaggerated, but they were enough to spring him from a Texas prison

With Russell in tow, the agents searched his apartment, where they found several thousand dollars' worth of merchandise: computers, a fax machine, and other office equipment. Russell had used the name Wolcott to make the purchases; according to Dees, the real Edward Wolcott Jr., actually a Virginia attorney, claims not to know Russell.

Dees surmises that Russell planned to use the equipment to execute yet another scam--perhaps something in the line of insurance fraud. "So far, I can't find anything that has been done," says Dees, "but it appears he was on the verge of doing some stuff."

On the phone, Russell sounds downright gleeful while admitting that insurance fraud was exactly what he had planned. "I was fixing to score big," he says with a laugh, "if you know what I mean."

According to Russell, his "little scam" would have entailed setting up bogus companies with fictional employees, each of whom he'd insure. He'd then produce documents showing that some of those employees had contracted deadly diseases-- say, AIDS or cancer. And at that point, he'd sell the policies to viaticals, companies that purchase the life insurance of terminally ill patients for about 40 percent of their value.

"The reason they caught me is because they got lucky," he says. "As smart as I am, they always get a lucky break. And that's what happened this time."

But almost in the next breath, he seems to admit that his most recent downfall--like the previous one--has less to do with luck than with his obsession with Phillip Morris. "If they hadn't had Phillip, they would have never caught me. But they had Phillip, and they knew that was the key to getting me."

If Russell's saga proves anything, it's that history repeats itself even when the players ought to know better. Russell, ignoring the past, continues to be a fool for love; and prison officials, equally blind, continue to look like fools.

Steve McVicker is a staff writer for the Houston Press, the Dallas Observer's sister paper.

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