There were very few people in the Federal courtroom of Judge Margaret Sangel when Neal was escorted in by the U.S. Marshals who had transported him from the penitentiary. It was just Peter, Hughes, a U.S. Attorney, a bailiff, and June, to his surprise. Neal smiled and waved at her and Peter, as best he could.
He was wearing an orange jumpsuit, and waited patiently by the defendant's table as the shackles on his hands and feet were removed. Neal thanked the Marshals.
Hughes turned to Peter. "I thought you brought a suit for him."
"I did. I'm told he refused to wear it."
"Shh. The judge..."
Everyone stood as Judge Sangel took the bench. "Everyone please sit. This is the sentencing hearing for Neal Caffrey, and given the unusual aspects of this case, I'm going to take a few short-cuts, if no one has any objections."
The room was silent.
The judge continued. "Normally, all the charges for which you were convicted would be read. That would take a long time in this case, so I'm just going to mention one. First degree murder. That all by itself justifies a sentence of life without possibility of parole. Add everything else, and it's the only possible outcome."
Somehow, the silence in the room had grown.
"Normally, that is. But there's not a whole lot about this case that's normal. I've had six weeks to review all the documentation in this case. It was barely enough time, given the volume of material. The videotaped confession by itself ran how long, Ms. Levin?"
The US Attorney consulted her notes. "Ninety seven hours, your honor."
"Ninety seven hours. Detail upon detail. Every security flaw which was exploited. Every security flaw which could have been exploited. How you took a waiter's job at a high-end caterer, in order to study how the wealthy patrons dressed and acted, and what they were interested in. All sorts of forgers' trade secrets. Law enforcement and criminologists are going to learn a great deal from this confession.
"Ninety seven hours. I expected it to be interminable, but it was remarkably entertaining. But that is neither here nor there, and has no bearing on my decision.
"In addition to all the documentation provided by the prosecution, I considered several other additional sources of information. Victims' statements always play a large part in my sentencing decisions. For the most part, Mr. Caffrey's victims were wealthy and heavily insured, and the impact was minimal. There was one exception. The family of your murder victim, Eufemio Rivera."
Neal bowed his head.
"I chose to be the one to inform Marta Rivera of the circumstances of her husband's death, and that there was now a confession to his murder. Ms. Rivera and her children suffered great emotional pain and loss, Mr. Caffrey. Ms. Rivera never remarried, and she still misses her husband every day. The children barely remember their father."
There were tears in Neal's eyes.
"Surprisingly, however, given that Ms. Rivera is a poorly-educated immigrant woman, the family has prospered financially. Approximately two years after Mr. Rivera's death, Ms. Rivera started receiving regular checks from an annuity policy that she knew nothing about. Over the years, the checks have grown significantly, which is not normal for an annuity. Also, the insurance company does not exist.
"When the children reached college age, they each received full-ride scholarships from a small foundation. While the foundation does exist, in its entire existence, all it has done is fund scholarships for two students.
"My investigators have not been able to trace back any information about who is behind the annuity and the scholarships. Apparently, there's been some expert obfuscation. Mr. Caffrey, did you do this?"
Neal's head was still bowed. "It can't replace..."
The judge interrupted him. "Mr. Caffrey! It was a yes/no question."
Startled, he looked her in the eyes. "Yes, your honor."
The judge nodded. "Very well. I apprised Ms. Rivera of some of your history, and especially about your time at the FBI, and your confession. Ms. Rivera and her children have approved the sentence I will be imposing."
The judge continued. "Contrary to popular belief, a judge's responsibility in imposing sentences is not purely to punish the offender. A judge also is required to take into consideration the best interests of society.
"Even in Eufemio Rivera's murder, your intent was non-violent, and you have never again been involved in any incidence of violence. I have affidavit after affidavit from psychologists and law enforcement officials that unanimously state that you present no physical danger to society."
Peter and Hughes were both nodding their agreement.
"I also solicited statements from every FBI agent with whom you have worked, and not just from those that volunteered. While it was apparent that there are several that don't like you, they all praised your work ethic, your resourcefulness and creativity, and considered you an asset to the unit.
"In order to evaluate objectively your value to the FBI, I requested and received statistics about case closure rates in White Collar units in the ten largest metropolitan areas in the US. In the three years before you became a consultant to the New York unit, their case closure rates were quite respectable, on the high end of the rates for the comparable cities.
"In the sixteen months that you were a consultant, the case closure rates skyrocketed. A 93% closure rate is unprecedented.
"Mr. Caffrey, you were most definitely a valuable asset to the FBI, and they assure me that they want you back. So you're going back."
Peter and Neal looked at each other, elated.
"Now, in your confession, you admitted to taking liberties with your previous agreement, so I'm imposing additional restrictions, for at least a year. First, you are restricted to the FBI building, and may not venture further than fifty feet from an outside door unless you have your handler's approval, and it is necessary for a case. You have access to all unrestricted parts of the building, including the roof and gym. You'll sleep in the holding cell you occupied during your confession. It will not be locked, and you're free to come and go from the cell at will. You may see visitors in a lobby conference room, and these visits will not be monitored.
"Do you understand these restrictions?" She looked at him with raised eyebrows.
"Yes, your honor."
"Second, unless you have your handler's approval, and it is necessary for a case, you'll wear the prison uniform." Again, she raised her eyebrows.
"Yes, your honor."
"It's interesting that you anticipated me there. In a year's time, and every year thereafter, I'll hold a hearing to reconsider the restrictions."
"As for how many years that will be. My understanding is that an FBI Professional Staff member is generally eligible for full retirement at age 62. So that's how long you'll work for the FBI.
"Normally, if you were in prison, at that point, you'd be up for parole. The thing that is given the most weight at a parole hearing is clear evidence of remorse. I've heard a lot of insincere statements of remorse over the years, from prisoners trying to manipulate their way to freedom. In this case, your confession contained the most sincere statement of remorse I'd ever heard, and it came from a man volunteering to be locked up for the rest of his life." She shook her head ruefully.
"So no parole hearing is required. On your 62nd birthday, you are free.
"So ordered." She banged her gavel. But she wasn't quite done yet.
"A few more formalities. Mr. Hughes, you brought the anklet?"
Hughes nodded, and retrieved a GPS tracking anklet from his briefcase.
Peter hissed at him, quietly, "You knew, and didn't tell me!"
Hughes handed the anklet to Neal, who attached it to his leg, smiling broadly.
Judge Sangel turned to the US Marshals. "Mr. Caffrey is hereby remanded into the custody of the FBI. You are free to go. Thank you."
She then turned to Peter. "Agent Burke, I trust you can give Mr. Caffrey a ride to the FBI building."
"Gladly, your honor." Peter's smile was as broad as Neal's.
The judge turned to leave the room, and to hide her own smile, when Neal's voice rang out, "Wait!"
"Yes, Mr. Caffrey?"
Neal pointed to the anklet. "It's not working. The light's not on."
Judge Sangel looked at Hughes, who looked at Peter.
"New ones need to be activated. I need to make a phone call."
Judge Sangel nodded. "Then make it. We'll wait." She turned to Neal. "Continue on the course you've started, and those restrictions will be lifted in no time."
When the anklet LED came on seconds later, she again turned to leave, then paused. "Juney, I think you'll have your boarder back by this time next year."
"I can't wait, Mags."
Peter and Neal looked at each other in surprise.
An attractive woman in her late 20s waited in one of the upstairs conference rooms at the FBI's White Collar unit offices.
Peter came into the room. "Jennifer Kaplan? I'm Agent Peter Burke. Sorry to keep you waiting. My associate will be joining us shortly; he's due in at 9:00." Peter smiled. "He's got a really short commute, so I'm sure he'll be on time."
Sure enough, Neal was just making his way through the glass entrance doors. He was instantly surrounded by most of the staff, all of them welcoming him back heartily.
Peter addressed Ms. Kaplan again. "Let's give him a minute. He's been away, and this is his first day back."
Jennifer looked confused as the man in the ill-fitting orange jumpsuit with a conspicuous tracking anklet made his way toward them.
"Good morning, Peter!" Neal was grinning like a fool.
"Good morning, Neal!" Peter was also grinning like a fool. "Jennifer Kaplan, Neal Caffrey."
Neal shook her hand as she asked, "Are you undercover?"
"No. I'm a prisoner in the custody of the FBI, and this outfit is court-ordered."
They were both still grinning. Hughes stuck his head out of his office. "Knock it off, the two of you." But his words didn't have a whole lot of impact, since he was grinning like a fool, too. "Welcome back, Neal."
"Thank you, sir."
Hughes ducked back into his office.
Neal took a deep breath. "OK, we're both adults, and we have a job to do. And I'm afraid we've both made a very bad, and very misleading, first impression on Ms. Kaplan. I apologize for the silliness." The smiles were still there, but they were moderating to more professionally-appropriate levels.
Peter added, "I apologize, too. Yes, Neal is in my custody. And he's also a highly valued and most trusted member of my team."
Neal's smile turned into pure joy. "Thank you, Peter."
"You've earned it, Neal."