NEW YORK, NY – Numerous high-profile prisoners around the country are requesting and even demanding to be set free for the sake of their health. Some of them aren’t asking for transfers to smaller units or private quarters, or even to be placed in monitored house-arrest.
Some of these convicts are asking to be completely set free.
Forget their crimes.
The heck with their victims.
Just set them free.
People like Michael Avenatti, Michael Cohen, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly, just to name a few.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Avenatti urged a court on Monday to release him from a federal jail in New York after a judge agreed that his health could be jeopardized by the spread of the Wuhan virus among inmates.
The former attorney for adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, and Presidential candidate for about 30 minutes, is part of a growing group of high-profile prisoners who say they should be set free to protect them from COVID-19.
The pleas for mercy come amid mounting concerns that jails and prisons could serve as dangerous breeding grounds for the virus.
Avenatti, 49, who was convicted last month of trying to extort more than $20 million from the sportswear giant Nike and is set to be sentenced in June, is awaiting trial in two other criminal cases, one in New York and one in Santa Ana.
He has asked U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana to release him based on concern he will catch COVID-19 at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where three inmates have tested positive for the virus.
After his bail was revoked in January, Avenatti “languished in solitary confinement in a filthy, windowless, unventilated 10 x 8 cage for 23 or 24 hours for the first 30 days,” with meals slipped to him through a slot, his attorney H. Dean Steward wrote in court papers.
He was moved to a 26-man dorm, where he shared a cell with a man who came down with “a severe cough and fever,” Steward said. Avenatti, who reported three rats in his cell, suffered a bout of pneumonia six months ago and remains susceptible to lung infections, he wrote.
Prosecutors objected to Avenatti’s release, saying he was likely to resume committing financial crimes and posed a danger to the community.
On Friday, Selna found the spread of COVID-19 in New York was “a compelling reason” to grant Avenatti temporary release. But he declined to set him free unless he meets a list of conditions, including limits on his ability to transfer money or assets and assurance that he will remain in home detention “with no exceptions other than a medical emergency.”
On Monday, Avenatti’s lawyer proposed letting him fly immediately to Los Angeles to stay at the home of his friend Jay Manheimer for 90 days. As alternatives, he suggested a 14-day quarantine at a Hampton Inn in Brooklyn or at the New Jersey home of his brother-in-law Stephen Rodier before he departs for California.
Steward also said Avenatti would promise “not to engage in any financial transactions over $500.” Selna has not yet issued a final ruling on Avenatti’s request for release.
Lawyers for R&B singer R. Kelly, 53, who is awaiting trial on charges of sexually exploiting underage girls, asked a federal judge last week to release him from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago.
“Requiring people to reside in a custodial jail setting is tantamount to making them drink poison,” they wrote.
Keep in mind, most of Kelly’s previous run-ins with the law have been based on sex crimes, including the current allegations involving underage victims.
Bill Cosby is in prison for after being convicted on three indecent sexual assault charges.
Avenatti, Cohen, Madoff, and others are in for “white-collar” crimes.
Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney, asked a federal judge in New York to let him go home to serve the rest of his three-year sentence for campaign-finance and other crimes for fear that he’ll catch the deadly virus in prison. U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III turned him down.
“That Cohen would seek to single himself out for release to home confinement appears to be just another effort to inject himself into the news cycle,” Pauley wrote. “Ten months into his prison term, it’s time that Cohen accept the consequences of his criminal convictions for serious crimes that had far reaching institutional harms.”
Cohen, 53, who is serving his time at a prison in Otisville, N.Y., has posted an online petition by inmates calling on federal authorities to let nonviolent offenders complete their sentences in home confinement to reduce their exposure to the coronavirus. One inmate and one staff member at Otisville have tested positive. He also took to Twitter yesterday.
Confirmed… Inmate tests positive for #coronavirus at FCI Otisville Satellite Camp. It’s time for the Federal Government to act responsibly!
— Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) March 31, 2020
Spokesmen for Madoff, 81, who’s serving a 150-year sentence for an immense Ponzi scheme, and Cosby, who is serving three to 10 years in prison for sexual assault, say they too should be released to spare them infection.
The 82 -year-old Cosby has no cell mate at the state prison near Philadelphia where he’s locked up, his publicist Andrew Wyatt said.
According to Wyatt, Cosby has a mask and eats meals in his cell, but is still vulnerable to infection in a facility where another inmate has tested positive, so he should be transferred to home confinement.
“We just feel that it’s got to be sooner than later,” Wyatt said.
New York City, now the epicenter of America’s battle with the pandemic, has released about 650 inmates from its jails to curb the spread of the virus. At least 167 inmates and 114 correction staff have tested positive, according to city officials. Two jail staff members have died.
Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca hopes to be one of the people moved from a prison to home confinement.
Baca is less than two months into a three-year term in a Texas prison following his conviction for thwarting a federal investigation into jail abuses on his watch.
“As a 77-year-old with Alzheimer’s, he is part of the population most vulnerable to the virus,” his lawyer, Benjamin L. Coleman, wrote last week in court papers seeking Baca’s release.
Tekashi69, a 23-year-old Brooklyn rapper who is serving a two-year sentence for racketeering and other crimes, has asked a federal judge for early release, saying his asthma puts him at risk.
“It seems like just a matter of time before all prisons in the area are hit with the virus, both inmates and guards,” Hernandez’s lawyer, Lance Lazzaro, said in a letter to Judge Paul Engelmayer on Sunday. “Mr. Hernandez has been complaining to prison officials this week of shortness of breath, but apparently the warden of his facility will not allow Mr. Hernandez to go to the hospital despite the recommendation of the facility’s medical director that Mr. Hernandez be treated by a doctor at a hospital.”
Colombian drug kingpin Gilberto Rodriguez-Orejuela has also asked to be freed early. He is 81-years-old.
Napa Valley winemaker Agustin Huneeus Jr., who was doing five months in prison for paying to rig his daughter’s USC entrance exam and sneak her into the school as a bogus water polo player, was released five weeks early over COVID-19 concerns. However, businessman Devin Sloane, also convicted in the college admissions scandal, was denied similar relief.