A number of high profile prisoners, including President Trump ‘s former lawyer Michael Cohen, gangster and rapper Takeshi69, celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti and Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernie Madoff, have launched legal bids to be released from prison out of fear of contracting the coronavirus behind bars.
Rapist and disgraced media mogul Harvey Weinstein, 68, is so far the highest profile criminal to have tested positive for COVID-19 after reportedly catching it while imprisoned on the notorious Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex, before being transferred and later isolated at Wende Correctional Facility in Western New York.
On Monday, President of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association Michael Powers, confirmed Weinstein to be one of two prisoners in isolation at the facility.
Those who are filing legal bids to escape prison to avoid the virus fear US prisons could become a breeding ground for the coronavirus to spread, and are eager to avoid Weinstein’s situation.
Some prisons in the US are already looking at releasing low level offenders to reduce population and stem the spread of the virus.
Rapist and disgraced media mogul Harvey Weinstein, who is serving 23 years for rape and sexual assault, is being held in prison isolation after testing positive for the coronavirus
Rikers Island Jail complex, New York, where Harvey Weinstein is thought to have caught the coronavirus. There are concerns that US prisons could become a breeding ground for the virus
Takeshi69, whose real name is Daniel Hernandez, told the Manhattan Federal Court in a letter that he is experiencing shortness of breath, a symptom of the coronavirus. He also said that he has asthma and was recently hospitalized with bronchitis and sinusitis on 31 October, which would put him in the high-risk category.
Hernandez’s attorney, Lance Lazzaro, wrote in the letter on Sunday: ‘While I recognize that his release date is only about four months away, given the health crisis that is currently tearing through this region and Mr. Hernandez’s compromised medical condition, please strongly consider modifying Mr. Hernandez’s sentence so as to immediately make him eligible for home confinement.’
Daniel Hernandez, aka Takeshi69, is due to be released on 31 July, but has requested he is released early to avoid the coronavirus as it spreads through the New York prison system
He is due to complete his sentence on July 31 after he was imprisoned for committing nine federal crimes, including racketeering and drug charges. He was facing a much longer sentence, but this was reduced after he cooperated with investigations into other gang members.
The letter claims that the warden of the facility Hernandez, 23, is incarcerated in will not allow him to go to hospital, ‘despite recommendation of the facility’s medical director’ that he is treated by a hospital doctor.
In contrast to Hernandez’s appeal, Michael Cohen, 53, Trump’s ex-fixer serving a three-year sentence for fraud and perjury at Otisville Federal Correctional Facility, New York, has not cited any specific medical needs as a reason for him to be released.
Trump’s ex-fixer Michael Cohen, sentenced to 3 years in prison for fraud and perjury, has also lodged a plea to be released from prison, despite having no underlying health conditions
Otisville Federal Correctional Institution, where Michael Cohen is currently incarcerated
Therefore, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom McKay wrote in a letter to the Manhatten federal judge that Cohen’s claim ‘applies equally to every inmate’ in the New York prison system.
McKay wrote: ‘Cohen has not even attempted to argue that he is uniquely at risk as compared to other inmates. Nor could he: He is 53 years old and in good health.’
Cohen’s fellow lawyer Michael Avenatti, 49, famous for representing celebrities including Stormy Daniels and serving time for trying to extort sportswear giant Nike, also requested to be released from prison to avoid the coronavirus.
His own representative said that when he visited Avenatti in prison, he saw that the jail was ‘completely unprepared’ for the coronavirus outbreak, with no hand sanitizer or checks on people coming in and out of the prison.
‘That’s a small indicator of a big problem,’ said Avenatti’s lawyer Dean Steward to CNN. ‘I’m putting together a motion to get him out on bail based almost exclusively on the illness factor and how bad it’s going to be once a person gets it in there. A guard or somebody will get it; it will be a horror show.’
Despite his concerns, a federal judge rejected Avenatti’s plea to be released early, dismissing concerns that a recent case of pneumonia puts him at high risk.
Celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti – famous for representing Stormy Daniels – and his representative, believe the prison system is not fit to cope with the coronavirus outbreak
Bernie Madoff, serving 150 years in prison, has a terminal kidney disease. Catching the coronavirus could be fatal to someone with his condition and of his age
Another high profile detainee considering filing for release is Bernie Madoff, the man behind an infamous ponzi scheme that landed him with a 150 year prison for fraud, money laundering, perjury and false statements.
Madoff, 81, applied for compassionate leave last month due to his terminal kidney disease, and is reportedly considering applying for release once more due to the threat posed by the coronavirus to those in poor health.
Speaking to Daily News, Madoff’s lawyer said: ‘This health crisis may further accelerate his death. I think this serves as potentially another additional reason why continuing to keep him in confinement is not in his interest nor in the public’s best interests.’