Thursday, January 07, 2010

I Love You Phil(l)ip Morris

I was just reading up about a new Jim Carrey film about to be release in Feb 2010 called "I Love You Phillip Morris" which, at first, seems like a very subtle marketing ploy for Marlboro cigarettes. I was wondering if somehow Philip Morris (one 'L') had managed to get a major hollywood film to change it's title to reflect the name of the company, now that they're not allowed to show advertising for cigarettes etc.

But no - it turns out that it's actually a true and rather bizarre story about a conman called Steven Jay Russell who managed to escape from prison four times to be with the lover he met in prison. For some brief excerpts about how crazy / genius this man was one needs to look no further than wikipedia.

On May 21, 1993 Russell got out of Harris County Jail in Houston, Texas, wearing civilian clothes he had obtained. Afterward he fabricated bogus credentials and got a job as CFO of North American Medical Management. He proceeded to embezzle thousands of dollars from the company. In 1995 he was caught and imprisoned for insurance fraud and again placed into Harris County Jail where he met Phillip Morris, who became his lover.

In 1996, while in Harris County Jail (Texas), Russell impersonated a judge and ordered his own bond decreased from $900,000 to $45,000, which he immediately posted. He was arrested 10 days later in Florida and was sent back to Texas. That same year he started taking art classes provided by the prison. Each time he attended a session, he snatched a green Magic Marker and hid it under his bed. Eventually, he had enough markers to dye his white prison uniform green. Since all the medical professionals in the prison wore green uniforms, Russell simply walked out of the prison disguised as a "doctor."

In 1998, he was again at the Harris County Jail, serving a 45-year sentence for stealing $800,000 from a Houston company that manages physicians' finances, plus 20 years for the previous escape. He later got Phillip Morris transferred to the Dallas County Jail and tried to have him released.

While in prison, Russell began to plot his most daring escape. At the prison library, Russell began reading up on the HIV virus and AIDS. He began taking laxatives to make it seem as if he had the symptoms of AIDS. Russell used a prison typewriter to forge a medical document stating that he suffered from the disease, and used it to convince doctors of his "condition" on February 24. He fooled the prison doctor into believing that a 'special needs parole' to a Houston hospital had been authorized on March 13. While outside and free again, Russell posed as a doctor and informed the prison that Russel died from AIDS.

On March 20, 1998, Russell posed as a Virginia millionaire and tried to take a $75,000 loan from NationsBank in Dallas. When bank officials got suspicious and alerted the police, Russell feigned a heart attack and was transported to a hospital. The FBI placed him under guard, but Russell managed to impersonate an FBI agent on his cellular phone and convinced officers guarding him to leave. He walked out of the hospital and the hunt for Russel began all over again.

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