[Editor’s Note: Additional information regarding the release of prisoners in New York City has been added to this post].
It’s almost like the start to a really bad joke: “Michael Avenatti, Michael Cohen and Bernie Madoff walk into a bar…”
Only it’s “Michael Avenatti, Michael Cohen and Bernie Madoff are trying to get out from behind bars…because of the coronavirus crisis”.
All three guys have, in fact, asked to be released from their respective federal prisons because of what their lawyers argue are unsafe conditions due to the inevitable outbreak of coronavirus at each location.
Avenatti is currently being housed at the Manhattan Correctional Center (MCC) in New York City, Cohen is at the Otisville facility about 90 miles North of New York City, and Madoff is at the federal prison in Butner, NC.
The 49-year-old Avenatti had requested that he be released and placed on home confinement because he had contracted pneumonia within the last six months – and because his cellmate had been removed from their cell after running a high fever and having a severe cough.
But U.S. District Court Judge James Selna flatly turned down Avenatti’s request last Saturday.
“There is no showing that his cellmate was infected by the virus, and there have been no reported cases of Covid 19 at the New York MCC,” Judge Selna wrote in his denial of the request. “There is no basis to release Avenatti on medical grounds.”
Avenatti has been held at MCC since his bail was revoked back in January because he was found to have violated several of the terms. He was convicted in February on a series of charges related to his alleged attempt to extort $25 million from the Nike company – and is facing up to 47-years in prison for those convictions.
He is also scheduled to go trial in the Southern District of New York sometime later this year on charges that he defrauded his former client Stormy Daniels. The maximum sentence regarding those charges is 22-years.
After that, he’s still scheduled to be tried on a variety of charges in federal court in Los Angeles, CA. Those charges carry a maximum sentence of 335-years.
Maybe Coen needs to re-think his attitude and his strategy. given the years he’s facing in federal prison, coming down with a fatal case of COVID-19 doesn’t sound that bad after all.
Cohen, who is serving a three-year sentence for tax evasion, lying to Congress, bank fraud and campaign finance violations, also sought his release from the country club atmosphere of Otisville on the grounds that the Bureau of Prisons is “demonstrably incapable of safeguarding and treating B.O.P. inmates who are obliged to live in close quarters and are at an enhanced risk of catching the virus.” from the coronavirus.
And even though he’s 100% correct about that claim, his requested release was also flatly turned down by U.S. District Court Judge William H. Pauley III, who noted: “Cohen’s cursory submission fails to offer any factual support for his claim or any legal basis upon which his motion could be granted.”
“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 in his opinion that sided with prosecutors, who urged that Cohen not be released.
“Ten months into his prison term, it’s time that Cohen accepts the consequences of his criminal convictions for serious crimes that had far-reaching institutional harms,” Pauley added.
Meanwhile, Cohen is supporting an online petition to his old boss, President Donald J. Trump, seeking the transfer of all non-violent federal prisoners to home confinement.
The petition – which was posted on Cohen’s Twitter account last weekend – argues that the requested releases would “give the prison facilities additional (and much needed) medical triage and logistic space for those who will become infected”.
The petition also includes the following guilt-trip message to Trump: “Without your intervention, scores of non-violent offenders are at risk of death and these people were not given a death sentence.”
The 53-year-old Cohen is currently scheduled to be released on November 22, 2021.
Just last month, Madoff had asked for a “compassionate release” from federal prison because of his terminal kidney disease.
According to the petition that he filed at the time, Madoff has a life expectancy of less than 18-months.
Now his attorneys are calling for him – and all at-risk federal prisoners – to be released for their own safety because of the coronavirus crisis.
“The federal prison system has consistently shown an inability to respond to major crises”, one of Madoff’s attorneys, Brandon Sample, told the Associated Press. “My concerns are even more amplified for prisoners at federal medical centers and those who are aged.”
The 81-year old Madoff is serving a 150-year sentence for bilking thousands of investors in a $17.5 billion Ponzi scheme.
Following his arrest, the Madoff family’s assets were auctioned off, and the government appointed a trustee who worked to recoup the $17.5 billion in principal investments that Madoff’s firm made. The Madoff Recovery Initiative has so far paid out nearly $13 billion, and another fund has paid out more than $2 billion to tens of thousands of victims, according to the funds’ websites.
He was imprisoned in July 2009 after pleading guilty to 11 felony counts – including money laundering, perjury, and falsifying financial documents.
Back in June 2019, Madoff submitted a clemency petition to President Trump. According to the Department of Justice’s website, that petition is still listed as “pending”.
State Prisons & Local Jails Are Already Releasing Some Prisoners
Several states and municipalities have already begun to reduce their prisoner populations in anticipation of outbreaks of the coronavirus.
In Los Angeles, for example, the nation’s largest jail system has reduced its prisoner population by more than 600 since the end of February by releasing many inmates with fewer than 30 days left on their sentences.
And in Cleveland, judges held a special session last weekend to settle numerous pending cases with guilty pleas without any jail sentences – and to release more than 200 low-level, non-violent inmates.
In Miami, the top state attorney has urged the release of all non-violent felons and those being held on misdemeanors. That proposal has not yet been approved.
Last week, New York City’s Board of Corrections called for the immediate release of all high-risk inmates after an investigator assigned to the jail system died over the weekend from COVID-19. The city’s jail system has about 8,000 inmates, most at the notorious Rikers Island facility.
On Tuesday, March 24th, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio announced that 300 low-level inmates would be released immediately in order to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus in the City’s jails.
The 300 people to be freed are in addition to another 75 prisoners already released in the hope of curbing the spread of COVID-19. As of Tuesday, 54 people in city custody and 30 Department of Correction staff members had already tested positive for coronavirus.