The List June 2004

Rich, Famous, Incarcerated

Two decades of celebrity justice

Martha Stewart will be sentenced on June 17, and stands to join a select crowd: celebrities who've been sent to jail. Most celebrity crimes are mundane stuff, and even stars accused of heinous crimes—such as Fatty Arbuckle and O. J. Simpson—are frequently acquitted or let go with a slap on the wrist. In the meantime (bearing in mind that "celebrity" is an inexact term and that we've opted not to include athletes), here are what we believe to be the ten longest celebrity jail sentences of the past twenty years.

1. Rev. James Bakker: Forty-five years, for wire and mail fraud. The toothy televangelist was convicted in 1989 of swindling $158 million from followers who bought time-shares at Heritage USA, a Christian resort run by his PTL Ministry.

2. Jamal "Shyne" Barrow: Ten years, for first-degree assault, criminal possession of a weapon, and reckless endangerment. Shyne was a hip-hop artist on the rise and a protégé of Sean "P. Diddy" Combs when he opened fire inside a Manhattan nightclub in 1999, injuring three people.

3. Christian Brando: Ten years, for voluntary manslaughter. In 1990 Marlon Brando's son shot and killed Dag Drollet, the boyfriend of his half-sister Cheyenne, claiming that Drollet beat her while she was pregnant.

4. Marion "Suge" Knight: Nine years, for violating probation. In 1995 the West Coast rap impresario received a nine-year suspended sentence and five years' probation for assaulting two musicians in a Hollywood studio. After Knight participated in a September 1996 attack on a man in a Las Vegas hotel lobby, his probation was revoked and he was forced to serve the suspended sentence.

5. Rep. James Traficant: Eight years, for racketeering and corruption. The Ohio congressman took bribes from businessmen and kickbacks from his staff; after he was convicted, in 2002, he became only the fifth member of the House of Representatives ever to be expelled.

6. James Brown: Two concurrent six-year sentences, for aggravated assault and failing to stop for the police. In 1988, while high on PCP, the "Godfather of Soul" burst into an insurance seminar in a building he owned, brandishing a shotgun, and demanded to know who had used his bathroom. He later led police officers on a two-state car chase. He was pardoned last year.

7. Mystikal (a.k.a. Michael Tyler): Six years, for extortion and sexual battery. Last year, after accusing his hairstylist of stealing $80,000 in checks, the Grammy-nominated rapper forced her to perform sexual acts with him and two bodyguards.

8. Rick James: Five years and four months, for assault and drug charges. The "Super Freak" was convicted on charges stemming from two 1993 incidents. In the first he and his girlfriend Tanya Hijazi—drunk and high on crack cocaine—assaulted a female acquaintance. In the second James provided a woman with crack. James's attorney noted that his client had "a different lifestyle than the rest of us."

9. Leona Helmsley: Four years, for tax fraud. Leona and her husband, Harry, billed the Helmsley hotel chain for more than $3 million worth of renovations and furnishings for their Connecticut home. It probably didn't help her case when she said, before her 1989 conviction, "Only the little people pay taxes."

10. Robert Downey Jr.: Three years, for violating probation. In 1996 Downey was arrested for separate incidents of gun and drug possession, trespassing, and leaving a mandatory drug-treatment program. He was placed on probation, but after two violations was sentenced to three years in prison.

Presented by

Nathan Littlefield is an Atlantic staff researcher.

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