Prisoner Assistant/Lifetime Liberty Group Vanishes: What Happened?

 Prisoner Assistant

Prisoner Assistant

 Lifetime Liberty Group

Lifetime Liberty Group

It was a fantastic idea. Prisoners need assistance. Michael Benanti knew it all too well, having served time for bank robbery convictions throughout the 1990s. So not too long after his release, in 2008, he provided the solution by forming 'Prisoner Assistant' -- "a financial concierge company designed exclusively for prisoners," according to their 68-page book of a brochure. For their public image, they billed themselves as "the first and only company of its kind... a market leader in rehabilitation and re-entry planning." But their name stated what their most valuable aspect: 'Prisoner Assistant,' providing over five hundred services prisoners could use to get things done.

Prisoners do need help. It's why Prison Lives was established. Through our publications and services, we provide the resources and a means to be productive individuals despite their confines. But 'Prisoner Assistant' was there first in many ways, paving the way for prisoners to recognize that they actually do have some amount of power to accomplish their goals right from their cells. They rapidly became known as the most reliable place to go to for services ranging from banking, office, shopping, and publishing assistance, to website and social media setup... virtually any service a prisoner needed they could provide. They were even profiled in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, legitimizing their venture.

But then the 'Prisoner Assistant' road, repackaged in 2014 as 'Lifetime Liberty Group,' suddenly and mysteriously seemed to come to an end, stranding hoards of productive prisoners in the process. 

What happened?

The biggest fear of prisoners who send their hard-to-come-by, often spartan, financial resources out to a company they hope will help them accomplish the task they have paid for is that something will happen to the company before their task is completed. It's a common problem, almost epidemic, where well-intentioned entrepreneurs, often family or friends of prisoners, set up shop offering prisoner assistant services, only to find out that offering such services to prisoners is far more challenging than well-intentions can accomodate. Prisoners therefore have justifiable trust issues with these companies that can take years to soften. Prisoner Assistant, although on the pricey side, survived those concerns of abandonment, becoming a trustworthy enterprise... until they disappeared overnight.

It all began to grind to a halt when owner Michael Benanti was re-arrested. At the end of 2014, as Prisoner Assistant was completing its transition to 'Lifetime Liberty Group,' Benanti was transitioning from a life of freedom to one that looked as if it might include a lot more bars. He was arrested under suspicion of breaking into a North Carolina car dealership with the intent to steal a car, which could have led to a substantial loss of freedom due to his federal record. In itself, this may not have resulted in the end of his prisoner assistance venture. However, newly arrested Benanti appeared to have a moment of panic.

According to recorded county jail phone records, a desperate Benanti got on the phone.

"I don't care what account you pull (money) from," he instructed his Prisoner Assistant second-in-command, referring to the Prisoner Assistant accounts. "You have to wire it. It has to get here now. I need to be bailed out as soon as humanly possible." 

He would go on to gain his freedom, according to a Knoxville News Sentinel expose, "thanks to a high-priced lawyer funded by inmate money." Charges dropped.

But this illegal indescretion would not be noticed for most of a year, and as would soon be discovered, it was nowhere near the most heinous nor dramatic part of the end story of Prisoner Assistant. The next nine months, according to the FBI, would include the kidnapping and terrorization of families, extortion plots, and potentially murder. It would result in Benanti behind bars again, maybe for good.

This past November, while awaiting trial, Benanti may have sealed the fate of his company in another phone call from jail.

"I want you to take all the money from all the accounts and put it into my personal account. That's my directive... client services stops until this is over. All the direct deposits, just move them out. I need the best lawyer there is."

The FBI warnings on the companies website evoke a prisoner-clients worst fears of abandonment, and most likely reinstill the paranoia that no one can be trusted. It is likely that any prisoners with funds in Prisoner Assistant/Lifetime Liberty Group accounts will never see their money again. 

Fortunately, quality companies, ones who are truly there to help prisoners, exist. Unfortunately, it appears to be a gamble for prisoners who must hold there breath until each paid-for task is done. 

Prison Lives is working hard to change that perception, one order at a time.

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