Is it Time to Free George Martorano?

The country’s longest-incarcerated non-violent offender is still in prison.


George Martorano has been in federal prison for a very long time. The son of late Philadelphia mobster Raymond Martorano was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after his 1982 arrest. His crime? George Martorano was a drug dealer.

Martorano’s supporters like to say that he’s been in federal prison for decades all because of a pot bust. But that’s not really true. Martorano was no small-time, street corner peddler.

No, according to federal prosecutors, George “Cowboy” Martorano controlled a $75 million-per-year organized crime drug empire before he was caught with a literal truckload of marijuana. Martorano also pleaded guilty to a bevy of other drug charges, including possession with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine.

But there were no charges of violence against Martorano, which makes him the longest-incarcerated non-violent offender in the federal prison system. Murderers, rapists and child molesters have spent less time in prison. In many cases, much less time.

So how is it that the justice system gave Martorano such a drastic sentence?

Well, Martorano’s original attorney, the infamous Robert Simone, told him that if he pleaded guilty to all of the charges, he would probably get 10 years, while sentencing guidelines at the time suggested a prison term of just 40 to 52 months.

But when it came time for Judge John Hannum to sentence Martorano, he gave him life without the possibility of parole. And after an appeal gave him a shot at freedom, Martorano was, again, sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole by a completely different judge. Keep in mind that both of Martorano’s trials occurred during the height of Ronald Reagan’s ill-conceived War on Drugs.

“Hannum was particularly mean spirited,” remembers attorney Gerald Shargel, who has worked on the case. “I had never seen anything like it. And then the new judge — well, to think of George’s sentence really pains me. It would seem to me that this kind of sentence is for the worst kind of offender, and George is not that.”

Martorano’s situation is not unique. According to the Washington D.C.-based Sentencing Project, of the approximately 160,000 lifers in the United States, 50,000 are serving life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), and 10,000 were convicted of non-violent offenses. And LWOP sentences are on the rise, with a 22-percent increase in that prison population since 2008.

Pennsylvania itself now has 5,000 people serving life, making ours the most popular state in the nation for life sentences, says Ann Schwartzman, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society. (The PSP works only with the state judicial system, not the federal one that sentenced Martorano.)

Schwartzman also explains that in Pennsylvania, life means life; by the state’s legal definition of a life sentence, a lifer will never see the light of day. “And we have the distinct honor of having the highest number of juvenile lifers, at about 500,” Schwartzman adds. “That’s more than any other jurisdiction in the world.”

As for Martorano, he spends his days at Florida’s Coleman Prison, where he is a model inmate and teaches courses like Astanga yoga, creative writing, and Release Preparation: Starting a Business for Under $1,000. He also blogs and publishes poetry via and, two sites run by his brother-in-law, John Flahive. (Martorano is not allowed Internet access, so he mails his writings to Flahive, who posts them.)

The Supreme Court of the United States has declined to hear Martorano’s case, but Flahive says that all hope is not lost. Martorano is currently representing himself in a legal motion asking the court to reduce his sentence, with support from a prison psychiatrist, who told the court that “Martorano’s behavior is outstanding” and that he “has been a positive role model and positive influence…”

And if that doesn’t work, Martorano can apply for the Compassionate Release program next year, when he turns 65. But with his luck in the judicial system, he’s probably not holding his breath.

“Who benefits one iota by keeping this man locked up one more minute?” asks Flahive. “If someone can answer that, I’ll back off. Did he need to go to jail? Yes, for his greed and stupidity. But he did not need to be thrown away.”

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  • John Flahive

    $75 million???? wrong…. heroin??? it was sugar…. it was a sting operation that made a nickle-dime drug dealer into what “THEY” called a 75 million dollar operation…. maybe the federal agents involved should be doing time as they orchestrated the LARGEST portion of it.
    Caged for 31+ years is more than enough, YES IT IS TIME TO RELEASE GEORGE

    • Guest

      Not even 10 years ago, my best friend was brutally murdered (beaten to death) by her heroin dealer, whom she owed $700! he is due to be out next year!! FREE GEORGE he didn’t do anything to anybody!!

  • Melissa Ann Circle

    Not even 10 years ago, my best friend was brutally murdered (beaten to
    death) by her heroin dealer, whom she owed $700! he is due to be out
    next year!! FREE GEORGE!!! He didn’t do anything to anybody!!!!

  • Dean Becker

    75 million dollar empire eh? George was provided three different shipments by the DEA . The DEA then bought 2 of these multi hundred pound loads from George. If they had continued to resupply and buy the weed it would have indeed been $75 million a year. When the DEA brought a 3rd and last multi hundred pound load of weed to George and when he took “possession” they framed him as a “big fish” and then sent him to a life sentence for the weed they brought to Philadelphia. There is no “justice” in the drug war. It is a festering collection of lies, perversion, corruption and unjustifiable fear.

  • Jane Strauss

    I will repeat the words quoted above by Attorney Gerald Shargel, who accurately sums it up.
    “Hannum was particularly mean spirited,” remembers attorney Gerald
    Shargel, who has worked on the case. “I had never seen anything like it.
    And then the new judge — well, to think of George’s sentence really
    pains me. It would seem to me that this kind of sentence is for the
    worst kind of offender, and George is not that.”

  • Jane Strauss

    For more information about the Draconian Minimum Mandatory sentencing we have today

  • Jane Strauss

    If there is anyone out there like Attorney Gerald Shargel that has personal knowledge of this case or worked with Judge Hannum, please consider helping George by coming forward and making the public aware of what you know.

  • Deborah Scarpa

    Read about George This is an extraordinary man who has taken the worst of the worst situation and uses himself as an example to help his fellow inmates when they are suicidal or need help coping by saying; “If I have hope and dignity facing what I am facing everyday so can you…you will make it and don’t waste a minute.. try your best to accomplish something”. Despite his mistakes this is evidence of the depth of his character. Any judge that continues this sentence knowing that George never went to trial to argue against these charges. Knowing that he has worked without pay or promise for 31 years to help his brothers and the prison system, is a unique human being and he deserves and should win his freedom based on his record and redemption. Let the man free or we all lose the ideal of justice as the system turns a blind eye to correct this illegal sentence.

  • Mark Anthony Given

    MY NAME IS GEORGE MARTORANO, United States of America’s prisoner number 12973-004 and for 30 years I have been in federal custody, sentenced to Life in prison without possibility of parole for a first time non violent offense. I made a mistake and I was willing to pay for it. The government sold me a truck load of pot. My lawyer said he knew the judge and if I plead guilty I wouldn’t get more than twenty years. But, because I flatly refused to testify against my own father and the media hysteria surrounding Italian American’s mob wars I received LIFE without possibility of parole in Philadelphia, my hometown in 1983. Later court hearings revealed dirty dealings between my judge and my lawyer. It’s in all the law books…
    I am asking you to place yourself in my place for just an instant; you don’t kill anybody, no sexual assaults, no kidnapping, you sell some drugs. The government sets you up, your busted red handed it’s time to man up. You obtain the best lawyer you can find and you rely upon their advice. They take you up to the top rope, you beg for mercy and you get pile drived into oblivion. Life with no chance of parole at 32 years of age……..for selling drugs. Then for many years after a vindictive US prosecutor made it’s his pet peeve to make me talk by torturing me with extensive “Diesel Therapy,” where you are transferred every few weeks to points unknown usually in the middle of the night. Your personal property and legal papers are always weeks behind you; for years from “hole to hole.” Attorney Gerald Schrage made them stop somehow… Life without parole. It has been ringing in my ears for three decades nonstop. Will you make it stop? I had to ask….

    • Jane Strauss


  • bryson

    Hmmm, Ronald Reagan’s war on the elderly is more like it. He made sure Seniors pay tax on their social security. How pathetic! There are many friends in Lower Merion who think that he was the cat’s meow…

  • Jane Strauss

    This was written by George & sums up our prison system today:

    America the Gray

    His eyes opened. His nose smells. His right hand reaches out and runs along the
    cell wall. He feels pain in his lower
    back. He breathes in the years and
    exhales within his mind. He begins to
    pull, push, struggle himself upright on the prison bunk. He lifts one leg, then the other and his feet
    succumb slowly to the cold concrete floor.
    With his torso lean; his stooped shoulders, he stares at all below. He sees the draft blowing across the bottom
    of the steel door; pushing, lent, bits and pieces of this and that. With a moan he stands and shuffles the long,
    the short, distance to the steel sink.
    His hurt hands grab hold the sides and ever so slowly he looks,
    believes, into the tin mirror. Oh, what
    he sees. The age; as if the bent tree
    outside the cell’s window….. In time
    with worn old but clean prison clothes, he begins the journey. First he eases his head out the cell
    door. He looks left. He looks right. He begins to move. There’s no one about….. Finally, he enters the traffic of the living
    dead; the long red broad way of the prison hall. He does not look up at the faces. His mind ignores the sound. The smell of prison food his lungs
    reject….. Yet, he shuffles on.

    He moves with the set purpose
    within. He moves with the final judgment
    he has decided within. In time he’s
    there. It is where the orders come
    from. It is where they told him he must
    leave. He must go free after 52 years
    caged. He stands, backs up against the
    stone of the wall. Now he adjusts his
    stare, a moving stare, at what is about him; the waste, the human waste, as
    he. Then the plan begins to
    develop. It is a simple plan as he
    himself; a simple prisoner and no more.
    He exhales. He sees a cut in the
    human traffic and he shuffles across to the spot he chose. Before the set of steel bars he locks onto
    with his old hands. Then with all the
    aches within, he begins to slide to that red stone floor…..

    He shimmies his arms through the
    steel and holds on for dear life…..
    “Come on Mr. Brown. You’ve
    got to go today,” delivers a guard from the group of guards around the
    desperate soul….. They see his head
    shake, the gray of it. They hear the
    mumble and whimper coming from he who sits…..
    “Clear the hall. Clear the
    hall!” And the prisoners are chased
    away; just the man and his want and the uniforms with their orders….”I,
    I, there ain’t nothin out there for me.”
    And finally a clear sentence comes from what the courts have delivered
    from decades within the prison castle…..
    “Just leave him be”; “Come on all of you go on about your jobs”
    said the warden, leaving the man to decide when to unlock his soul from the
    forever grip.


    What I have just revealed to you I
    have witnessed; for I was one of those prisoners in that hall traffic that
    day. What I have relayed to you is occurring
    in prisons all across America. We are
    the only country that keeps non-violent prisoners forevermore in cages. Sad to say; I George Martorano, might someday
    find his set of bars and lock onto with all of my soul’s wants.

    George Martorano, CR:

    Date: 1-27-12

  • Pat

    George Mortarano should have been released a long, long time ago. This is “Bullshit” has this country gotten any better? NO. I felt safe with George, and all the rest of what they are referred to “The Mob”! They took good care of many people. My husband was shot & killed 35 yrs.ago. I was 26 yrs. old & pregnant. He turned himself in, he killed my husband and got to choose a jury or no jury. He chose no jury. The judge convicted him of murder in the first degree. He was out of jail in7 yrs. for murder. My daughter was born 4 months later with no father. That’s justice! It’s bullshit. They need to investigate Judges, Cops, Lawyers,. RELEASE GEORGE!!

  • Jane Strauss