Expert to Judge: Confinement Puts Ex-Peru President at ‘Grave Risk’

Alejandro Toledo, then the president of Peru, speaks during the session “The Challenge for Latin America” at the 2003 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (World Economic Forum / Daniel Ammann)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Despite testimony that an ex-Peruvian president’s detention at a Bay Area jail puts him at “grave risk” of mental and physical decline, a federal prosecutor argued Wednesday the defendant enjoys many privileges and should stay in jail pending his potential extradition.

“He is in an incredible setting,” U.S. prosecutor Elise LaPunzina said of ex-Peru president Alejandro Toledo Manrique’s confinement in a special housing unit at Maguire Jail in San Mateo County.

A federal judge quickly corrected her.

“He’s not in an incredible setting,” U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria replied. “He’s in a very unpleasant setting.”

Chhabria heard over five hours of testimony and arguments Wednesday on whether the conditions of Toledo’s confinement create a special circumstance that justifies releasing him on bond. The judge previously ordered the government to release Toledo from jail unless it could end his solitary confinement.

Toledo was moved in October from an isolated cell at Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail to a special housing unit in San Mateo County, where he has more access to day rooms, a telephone and until two weeks ago, an inmate occupying an adjoining cell.

Wanted in Peru for allegedly taking $20 million in bribes from a Brazilian construction company, Toledo claims the charges are politically motivated and based on coerced witness statements. Toledo led Peru’s government from 2001 to 2006. The 73-year-old was arrested in July.

James Gilletti, a sergeant with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department, testified that Toledo’s 10-by-12-foot cell is “by far the largest” at Maguire Jail, compared to the typical 6-by-12-foot cell.

The former head of state also has access to an adjoining room outside his cell with a television that plays DVDs and a telephone, which he has used to make “hundreds of phone calls,” according to prosecutors. He also gets access to two other day rooms with cable TV and an outdoor area for about one hour per day.

Despite those relatively improved conditions, a UC Santa Cruz psychology professor testified that Toledo still feels the effects of prolonged isolation and is suffering from depression, anxiety and mental decline.

“It gives him a larger space to be isolated,” professor Craig Haney said. “It’s larger than the typical cell to be sure, but it’s no less isolating than the typical cell.”

For about three months, Toledo was housed with an inmate named Noah Winchester, a former police officer accused of raping three women. Winchester was convicted and sentenced to 81 years to life on Jan. 17. He was moved to a state prison to serve out his sentence about two weeks ago.

Toledo reportedly told Haney that Winchester was domineering, “very loud,” played DVDs loudly in the day room outside his cell and was generally inconsiderate. Haney said Winchester “could not have been more incompatible” as Toledo’s cell neighbor.

“I have grave concerns about his mental and physical wellbeing,” Haney said. “He is very much at risk, at grave risk of even further deterioration, and perhaps irreversible changes.”

Countering Haney’s testimony, two jailers that supervise Toledo said they never noticed any changes in the ex-president’s demeanor over time.

LaPunzina cited a Dec. 6 report by unnamed jail employee who wrote that Toledo would change his demeanor before psychiatric visits. At one moment, he would be “conservational, outgoing and engaged” but just before a visit he would “slouch, hang his head down, walk more slowly and look sad and depressed,” according to the document.

Toledo’s public defender Graham Archer agued that file should not be used as evidence beyond the limited purpose of showing professor Haney did not remember reviewing it. The author was not called to testify, and the defense had no opportunity to question or confront the person about it, the public defender said.

LaPunzina also cited a magistrate judge’s recent finding that Toledo made a false representation to the court regarding his wife’s assets. The judge found the misrepresentation was not relevant to deciding whether Toledo should get a government-funded public defender because the court has no power to make his wife pay for his defense.

According to prosecutors, Toledo’s wife, Eliane Karp-Toledo, has $1 million in a previously undisclosed bank account.

“I do believe there is evidence of Dr. Toledo being dishonest on the motion for appointment of counsel,” LaPunzina said.

Toledo’s longtime friend, Stanford education professor Martin Carnoy, also testified Wednesday that he put $100,000 toward a $1 million bond package to secure Toledo’s release because he believes the former president will appear in court and abide by the conditions of his bond.

Eight people from three states posted $1 million bond to help secure Toledo’s release on house arrest. The government now contends that bond package was inadequate, given evidence that Toledo’s wife has $1 million in assets.

Repeating arguments made at prior bond hearings, Archer emphasized that Toledo knew of Peru’s plans to extradite him since February 2017 but never tried to flee the country. Despite rumors that he would flee to Israel, where his wife has citizenship, the country barred him from coming there while he faces extradition.

“How does he flee without a passport, with an Interpol red notice,” Archer asked. “Where does he go? He’s banned from Israel.”

Chhabria voiced some skepticism toward the defense’s argument that Toledo’s detention at Maguire Jail creates a “special circumstance” that would justify his release, but the judge said he would “think about all of this” before issuing a written ruling.

“The current conditions that Dr. Toledo is confined in seem preferable to protective custody,” Chhabria said. “He has so much more freedom of movement, access to TV. Is it perfect? No. Is it awful? Yes, but jail is awful.”

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