Moral Low Ground


Justice For Sale: Ryan LeVin, Millionaire Chicago Playboy who Killed Two Britons, Buys his way Out of Prison

In a blatant case of “checkbook justice,” a millionaire Chicago playboy has avoided imprisonment for the hit-and-run deaths of a pair of British businessmen visiting Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. According to the Chicago Tribune and the Sunday Mercury (UK), 36-year-old Ryan LeVin, heir to his family’s costume jewelry fortune, pleaded guilty in a Broward County court to racing his Porsche 911 Turbo at more than 100 miles per hour (162 km/h), jumping a sidewalk and mowing down 48-year-old Kenneth Watkinson and 39-year-old Craig Elford of England.

LeVin initially denied being the driver and tried to pin the deadly accident on a friend. The vehicular homicide charges against him could have landed him in prison for as many as 45 years. His trial was due to begin tomorrow.

But LeVin will serve no time behind bars after agreeing to pay an undisclosed settlement to the widows of the slain Britons. His punishment will consist of immediate payment of the restitution, two years’ house arrest in one of his parents’ $600,000 luxury beachfront condos in Florida, ten years’ probation and a lifetime suspension of his driving privileges.

Not bad for two counts of vehicular homicide.

LeVin (left), his Porsche, and victims Elford (top) and Watkinson. (Photo: Birmingham Post)












The widows of the two slain businessmen support the sentence. “The wives and children of the deceased were significantly and permanently impacted by this incident, and they have indicated… that there exists a great necessity for restitution which the defendant can, and will, make, if permitted a sentence devoid of incarceration,” David Bogenschutz, LeVin’s lawyer, wrote. The widows say they are experiencing financial hardship because their husbands were the sole income earners in their families. Broward County Judge Barbara McCarthy apparently agreed. “The need for restitution does outweigh the need for prison,” she stated.

But 76-year-old Emily Watkinson, one of the victims’ mothers, called the judgment “absolutely disgusting.”

“This is absolutely terrible,” she told the Sunday Mercury. “It’s a scandal that you can buy yourself out of prison. It is absolutely disgusting that you can take the lives of two people like that, and can get away with going home and living in luxury. There is no punishment. It’s shocking. I would rather have my son back than any amount of money in the world. This man should be behind bars for what he has done.”

University of Florida law professor Michael Siegel agreed. “It is an unbelievably light sentence,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “It is very disturbing.”

The Tribune reports that another South Florida driver who pleaded guilty to a hit-and-run that resulted in one death was sentenced last Friday to nine years behind bars and a $5,000 restitution payment.

“It is an outrage, and there should not be a single person in our community that is not offended by the fact that it is clear you can buy justice in Broward County,” Broward County public defender Howard Finkelstein told the Tribune. “Our clients in similar situations, in every case, go to prison for substantial periods of time. If it is appropriate that you not go to prison when you have money, it should also be appropriate that you not go to prison when you have no money.”

But in this case, and others, the justice system has met the free market, and the free market has spoken. With $155 million in annual sales from their family business, Jewels by Park Lane, the LeVins can certainly afford to buy their way out of this mess. And that’s exactly what they did. We can only imagine how many millions it cost to do so.

LeVin, who has had more than 50 previous traffic violations and was on parole in Illinois for driving into a police officer and starting a chase on a Chicago freeway, is no stranger to the court system, and that makes this sad case all the worse.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about this,” LeVin said in court. “I feel complete shame and compassion for the victims… My heart goes out to them. I would just like to say it’s a nightmare.”

It won’t be much of a nightmare living beachside in a luxury condo where he won’t even have to wear an electronic monitor.

Oh, and even though he can never drive again, LeVin has asked for the $120,000 Porsche that he killed two men with back.


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