Inside the walls of Miami's Federal Correctional Institution, Michael A. Stern typed out a desperate email to a longtime friend.
The 56-year-old former Miami Beach developer, locked up for swindling an NFL player and collecting millions from fraudulent mortgages, was in panic mode. He'd been diagnosed with prostate cancer in December, he wrote, but prison officials neglected to tell him. It wasn't until mid-April that a doctor gave him the news, and since then, he hadn't been taken to the doctor or provided any treatment.
"If they intend to just let me die in here," he said in the message, "they should just say it."
Representatives with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which oversees the low-security prison facility near Zoo Miami, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Stern's allegations.
Stern is an infamous character in South Beach, where he owned the city's historic Coral Rock House. In 2007, he became a government informant, wearing hidden wires and cameras to catch city officials accepting more than $100,000 in gifts and bribes. Three city officials were later convicted based on his evidence.
But Stern himself was indicted five years later, and in 2013 he pleaded guilty to fraud charges after stealing more than $3 million from former Indianapolis Colts star Dwight Freeney in a phony investment deal. The next year, the feds added additional charges for taking out $20 million in bogus mortgages on his Collins Avenue properties. He financed a life of luxury with this stolen cash, including buying a $700,000 plane.
In prison, though, Stern says the feds are refusing to treat his dire conditions. Allyn "Sam" Sherrill, the friend Stern emailed, tells New Times that Stern's first clue something was wrong came in November, when blood tests came back with a telltale sign of prostate cancer: a high PSA, or protein-specific antigen, level. Stern had a biopsy in December, but he says the results were not shared with him despite his frequent complaints to prison staff.
The doctor finally told Stern he had cancer April 17, though Stern claims the prison had known at least four months earlier. He's still trying to get treatment today. Sherrill, who's known Stern for 50 years, says his friend was despondent during a recent visit, terrified about his medical situation.
"He was crying," he says. "I've never seen this person cry in my life."
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The Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that ignoring an inmate's medical needs is an unconstitutional form of cruel and unusual punishment. Yet allegations of insufficient care are not uncommon. A class-action lawsuit filed earlier this month alleges the Florida Department of Corrections has refused to treat inmates for hepatitis C, letting some die. A recent Newsweek investigation found that prisoners with cancer routinely receive subpar care.
Stern is set to be released in 2023, according to the Bureau of Prisons. Sherrill says that he doesn't condone what his friend did but that today he is in desperate need of medical attention. And while he's tried contacting the Bureau of Prisons himself, Stern is still waiting.
"I just want to get him help," Sherrill says. "Why these wheels are turning so slowly is absolutely beyond me."