by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

The judge called it “the most unusual request I’ve ever had.”

The defense attorney said, “I’ve never heard anything like it.”

Even the crook admits he never tried anything this brazen.

Then again, it is Michigan-Ohio State weekend.

“The first thing he wanted me to do,” said defense attorney Tully Rogers, “was to get him out on bond so he could watch the game. He promised to come right back. I said, ‘I don’t think the judge is gonna go for that. Maybe we can come up with something else.’ “

What’s a crook to do? Jeff Renne, up on forgery charges, thought about the bad checks he’d written. He thought about the punishment, two years in prison. But mostly, he thought about — as most sports fans do — the TV reception.

And he made up his mind.

“I am guilty, your honor,” he told the judge. He then said he would accept his sentencing, right there, on the spot, if the judge would grant him one request:

Let him stay in the local jail through the weekend, rather than send him to the pre-prison reception center.

The local jail has television.

The center does not.

And Renne — before going up the river — wanted to watch the game.

The wisdom of Solomon

When people ask me how big the Michigan-Ohio State annual showdown is, I usually say you have to have a home here. I will modify that now. All you need is a cell.

“Why did you accept his proposal?” I asked the judge, Richard Sheward.

“Well, his case wasn’t due to come up for a month. But he said, ‘I’m willing to confess to what I did. I know I have to go to prison. I have only one request. Let me stay here and watch the game before you send me away.’

“I said OK. What I got out of it was an expedited case. What he got out of it was to watch Ohio State-Michigan. I thought that was reasonable.

“Keep in mind, I work in Columbus, Ohio. And this is Michigan-Ohio State week.”

Did I mention the judge is a Buckeyes fan?

Did I mention the defense attorney went to Michigan?

“You didn’t tell the judge about your alma mater, did you?” I asked Rogers.

“If I did,” he said, laughing, “I’d be in jail with Jeff.”

Did I also mention that Rogers has represented Renne before? Yep. On his last forgery charge — his fourth. This is obviously not a guy who learns from his mistakes. On the other hand, he doesn’t deny them. He fessed up, and stood ready to do his time — if he could just get his three hours on Saturday in front of the tube.

This should be a lesson to wives and girlfriends everywhere. Next time you threaten the man in your life by saying “it’s football or me” just remember: at least one male has already chosen two years in the slammer over a day without the game.

“My client said if the Buckeyes won, he could do his time happily,” Rogers said. “He said the sentence would go by faster and life would be sweeter if the Buckeyes won.”

How touching. Maybe they should make him head of the booster club.

After he gets out, of course.

“Is Renne a Ohio State grad?” I asked Rogers.

“No. He’s just a fan. An Ohio guy.”

Which only shows how big Michigan-Ohio State really is. Next time someone says Texas-Oklahoma is a big game, or USC-UCLA, just ask ’em: How many of your fans go to jail in order to watch it?

We can’t guarantee Jeff Renne is pointed in the right direction.

But his TV antenna is.

Rose Bowl vs. Presidents Cup

Now, this story does beg a few questions. First off, why do prisoners get tube time? I’ve seen those movies where the inmate gets his last request: a steak dinner, a cigar. But those are guys on death row. I wasn’t aware that check forgery meant network TV privileges.

Besides, there is only one TV set per unit, right? And according to Rogers, the set has no knobs, and the guards get to set the channel. What if the guard in charge wants to watch golf?

“Put it this way,” Rogers said, “if they didn’t show Michigan-Ohio State, it would be near riot conditions.”

OK. Fine. So Saturday, Renne, noted check forger, will get his wish. He’ll be a happy man, plopped in front of the TV screen. Of course, since making his request, Renne has gotten more national publicity than if he’d landed on the FBI’s most-wanted list.

And in doing an interview with a local TV station, his face has now been broadcast all over Ohio.

“I’d say his forgery career has probably reached an end,” Rogers said.

Then again, if someone delivers a plasma TV to cell block H, he might want to get it COD.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or He will sign “The Five People You Meet In Heaven” at 7 tonight at Chapters in Windsor’s Devonshire Mall and at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Borders in Grosse Pointe.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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