Apr 19, 2021
Jason Flom discovers rock stars and fights for the wrongfully convicted
The music executive who developed Stone Temple Pilots, Katy Perry and Lorde has been a tireless advocate for the innocent for 28 years
Earlier this month, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez moved to dismiss 90 old convictions in the borough, mostly drug related, because a former narcotics detective who had played a key role in them has since been charged with perjury.
Jospeh Franco, whose testimony secured the conviction of thousands of arrests, was accused of lying about drug sales that were never supported by video evidence in 2019. Beyond the 90 charges being dismissed in Brooklyn, many more cases in other boroughs are likely follow
The move by Gonzalez represents one of the largest dismissals of convictions in the state over concerns about official misconduct.
And the story serves to dramatically highlight the crisis of wrongful conviction in this country: There are some 2 million people in jail in this country right now. By even the more conservative estimates, somewhere between 4 and 10 percent of them are innocent of the crime they’re doing time for. That’s thousands, if not a couple hundred thousand, of people sitting in jail cells across the country for crimes they did not commit as you’re reading this sentence.
“No one can even really know what the number is. I believe it’s actually higher,” says Flom. “Every one of those people is a real story, is a real human and is a person who has connections in the community, has family. They’re all somebody’s mother, son, brother, cousin, grandfather, whatever. So the ripple effect of this is really enormous.”
Flom is this week’s guest on “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast,” and under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t be having this conversation: Flom has held top jobs at Atlantic Records, Virgin Records, and Capitol Music Group. His Lava Records has Lorde, Greta Van Fleet and Jessie J on its roster. He has discovered or developed artists including Stone Temple Pilots and Skid Row and Kid Rock and Katy Perry.
And for the past 28 years he has been a tireless advocate for the wrongfully convicted. He is a founding board member of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization committed to exonerating the wrongly convicted.
We couldn’t resist asking if all this work for justice is atonement for inflicting Kid Rock on the world.
“I’m an atheist, but there but for the grace of God go I,” he says. “I was a kid with substance abuse problems from 15 to 26. And ultimately I ended up in rehab. I’m very well aware of the fact that had I been born a different color, in a different zip code, I would have ended up in jail. And who knows how things could have gone from there. It’s not hard to see the privilege there.”
We go deep on his surprising—and surprisingly successful—side hustle. We break down the scope of the problem of wrongful convictions and its main drivers, from junk science to incentivized witnesses to false confessions. If you think you’d never be one to confess to a crime you didn’t commit, it’s worth a listen just for that.
“If you’re ever brought in for questioning—and I hope you never are—but if you are, the only thing you you should say, I’m imploring you, don’t say a fuckin’ word other than … ‘I want a lawyer,’ and that’s it,” says Flom. “Our system is so twisted and so tilted towards the prosecution that there’s no way for people to really get a fair trial unless you have a lot of money. And 99-point-god-knows-how-many percent of defendants are poor.”
Flom gets into specific cases and breaks down why Brooklyn is a hotbed of wrongful convictions. And we talk a bit about his own Brooklyn roots: His father, Joseph Flom, was a famous attorney who achieved enormous success in spite of an odds-stacked-against-him upbringing in Borough Park.
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