William Cummings, USA TODAY
Published 9:06 a.m. ET April 14, 2020 | Updated 12:00 p.m. ET April 14, 2020
Social distancing matters. Here is how to do it and how it can help curb the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawyers for Paul Manafort, who served as Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign chairman, sent a letter to the Bureau of Prisons on Monday requesting that their client be allowed to serve his sentence from home because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Attorneys Todd Blanche and Kevin Downing said that because of his “age and pre-existing health conditions” Manafort is at “high risk” from a COVID-19 infection. Downing wrote, “It is imperative that Mr. Manafort be transferred to home confinement immediately in order to minimize the likelihood of Mr. Manafort contracting or spreading the potentially fatal disease.”
Manafort, 71, is serving a seven-and-a-half-year sentence for tax evasion, fraud, witness tampering and other crimes. His attorneys said he is scheduled for release in November 2024 and has served 25% of his sentence since entering prison in June 2018. They requested he be allowed to serve the rest of his sentence from home, “or, alternatively, for the duration of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
Coronavirus in correctional facilities: Hundreds of infected, quarantined inmates in prisons and jails challenging officials
Manafort was one of the top figures snared in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government's interference in the 2016 election. Though Mueller did not uncover direct evidence of a criminal conspiracy between the campaign and Russia, Manafort was among a half-dozen people who faced charges on other matters as a result of the investigation.
On March 26, Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons to grant home confinement requests to nonviolent inmates who pose little risk of committing new crimes and who face higher risk from the virus. Barr said there are about 10,000 federal inmates who are 60 or older, but roughly 40% would be ineligible for release because they were convicted of violent crimes or sex offenses. Overall, about a third of the federal inmate population suffers from at least one preexisting condition, Barr said.
Barr called for prison officials to speed up the release of such inmates even if the electronic monitoring normally used in such instances is unavailable.
Though Manafort's crimes were not sexual or violent in nature, one hurdle that could hurt his chances of being released for home confinement is that Barr's directive said, “Many inmates will be safer in BOP facilities where the population is controlled and there is ready access to doctors and medical care.” He instructed federal prison authorities to weigh the risk from the coronavirus at the facility where the inmate is housed before granting a request for home confinement.
In the letter, Manafort's attorneys acknowledged that there were no reported COVID-19 cases at FCI Loretto – the low-security federal correctional institution in Pennsylvania where Manafort is held – but they said, “It is only a matter of time before the infection spreads to staff and inmates.”
Downing and Blanche said Manafort would serve his confinement with his wife in a three-bedroom apartment in Northern Virginia. Transferring Manafort there “will not increase – and would likely decrease – his risk of contracting the potentially fatal disease,” they said. They said Manafort – who was forced to surrender assets estimated to be worth more than $20 million because of his crimes – would be “able to support himself financially during home confinement.”
According to his attorneys, Manafort suffers numerous health conditions that could make him more vulnerable to the coronavirus, including high blood pressure, liver disease and respiratory illness. He takes 11 daily prescriptions to treat those conditions. The lawyers said he was hospitalized for a heart condition in December and had the flu and bronchitis in February.
Barr's directive called for any inmates who might be released to first undergo a two-week quarantine to ensure they would not carry any potential infection out of prison. According to his lawyers, Manafort has been in quarantine since March 30, “making him eligible to be transferred immediately.”
According to the BOP, 388 federal inmates and 201 members of the federal prison staff nationwide have tested positive for COVID-19. Thirteen inmate deaths have been attributed to the virus. Testing has been limited in correctional facilities, and many argue the rate of infection in those institutions is probably higher than reported.
The threat of the coronavirus sweeping through the tightly cramped confines of prisons and jails has prompted the release of thousands of prisoners, including more than 1,000 federal inmates. Rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as Republican and Democratic lawmakers, supported the release of inmates in response to the threat of COVID-19 and called for further action.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson
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