Convicted mortgage fraudster Mark Benun has been out of prison, living in a halfway house in West Palm Beach, Fla., since Nov. 14. Benun, 38, pleaded guilty to four counts of interstate transportation of stolen property in December 2009 in connection with a mortgage fraud scheme involving the $6 million sale of a Bronx commercial building near Yankee Stadium. He was sentenced the following March to 51 months in prison and three years of supervised release, and ordered to forfeit $5.5 million. He spent the majority of his 42-month prison sentence (including confinement pre-sentencing) in a Fort Dix, N.J. prison. The Real Deal caught up with Benun by phone yesterday, less than three weeks after he was released from prison.
What was the best part of prison?
The best part was learning how to operate in a business matter. This is golden advice for anyone in a business environment… do things straight, don’t waste time looking for an angle. If I went straight I’d own like 30 to 40 buildings.
How do you feel about your crime?
I think that I paid the ultimate price. I didn’t put anybody away. I learned from it. I won’t jaywalk.
Sounds like you’re saying you didn’t rat others out.
This is your second stint in prison. In 2004, you pleaded guilty to wire fraud after an unsuccessful attempt to transfer $42,000 from a client’s account to your own personal account when you were a stockbroker at the now-defunct Weatherly Securities. You served six months at Otisville Federal Prison. Were you in trouble as a kid?
Yes. I hung out with a fast crowd. I was given a lot as a kid. And I was entitled, which led me to think there were no consequences.
Some people believe things happen in threes. Think you’ll land in prison again?
That’ll never happen.
When we talked while you were in prison you said drugs played a part in your recent crime. How much of a part?
To the fullest extent.
What was your drug of choice?
Park Avenue psychiatrists and marijuana.
Are you sober?
I’m sober since Aug. 24, 2009. I do something [recovery-related] once a week. I work what I learned in RDAP [the Federal Bureau of Prison’s Residential Drug Abuse program]. It’s about behavior change and knowing there are consequences.
Do people in the industry know you got out?
The Syrian [Jewish] community knows I’m out. My friends have all been there for me.
Are there any lawsuits pending against you?
I don’t know how it works since I did the federal time, but I am being sued.
Do you plan to move in with your girlfriend in Boca Raton, Fla., when you get out of the halfway house?
Yes. [And she’s now my] fiancé. I proposed to Marita about two weeks ago when I got out.
Do you have any kids?
I have a son, Grayson, who is 3. Luke is 9. He’s not biologically mine, but I raised him like my own.
What do you plan to do next career-wise?
I have a meeting on Thursday with a commercial real estate firm in Fort Lauderdale. Like I did with Winick [Realty Group], I want to get in, learn everything, get out and open my own company.
What happened to your Manhattan-based company MBM1 Owners?
I sold that LLC.
Do you still own your Manhattan apartment?
Are you planning to come back to New York City?
I can’t say I’m running to the city.
Did prison harden you?
It changed my thought process, but it didn’t harden me [except] in terms of my three sisters. I was very there for them, and they were very not there for me when I was in prison. Yet they took so much from me when I was intoxicated.
What is solitary confinement like?
That’s a nightmare. You would never believe you’re in America. You couldn’t imagine. You go into survival mode. You’d read if you could get books. They have to be soft-cover books. A book is your day so you don’t want to read it too quick. I was reading a lot of Stone Barrington books. You come out one hour a day at 5:30 in the morning in what’s like a dog cage. … If you don’t get your head to the door or they didn’t like you — a lot of times they didn’t like Jewish people — [you wouldn’t be allowed out]. I starved myself the first time they put me in SHU [the Secure Housing Unit]. They caught me putting money in people’s accounts — because I wanted to eat better. I lost 30 pounds in 65 days [because] I was scared. The next time I went back [for three months] I [had been] knocked out because a Jewish guy was giving his food to a guy who was shaking him down. I said, “Why don’t you do it to me?” The last time two black guys in the unit I was in were trying to extort me. I threw hands to them. I wouldn’t succumb to their pressure.
Are you looking over your shoulder now?
No. There’s nothing to look over my shoulder about. I didn’t put anyone in prison. This $6 million [restitution I owe] — I’ll get it paid.