NY Highlights Federal Interference in Manafort Transfer

This courtroom sketch depicts former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, center in a wheelchair, during his sentencing hearing in federal court before Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria, Va., on March 7, 2019. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

MANHATTAN (CN) – Shedding light on the federal intervention that is keeping Paul Manafort off Rikers Island, a series of letters made public Tuesday show that the government appeared to credit Manafort’s complaints about his pretrial conditions.

The Justice Department’s outreach began on June 11 with Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen writing to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance about complaints he received the previous month regarding President Donald Trump’s disgraced campaign chairman.

“In the May 17 letter, expressing concern for his health and safety, Mr. Manafort’s attorneys opposed your office’s request that the State of New York temporarily take custody of him from BOP in connection with a New York County criminal matter that your office is prosecuting,” Rosen said to Vance.

Along with his query, Rosen enclosed a 5-page letter signed by attorney Todd Blanche, who is defending Manafort in New York.

Alluding to his client’s unspecified “health challenges,” Blanche called it unfair of Vance to make Manafort await trial at Rikers Island.

“These considerations are particularly weighty here in light of the fact that, as New York itself has acknowledged, the Rikers Island facility where Mr. Manafort would most likely be housed in New York remains burdened by ‘conditions that are unsecure, unsanitary and dangerous’ and indeed ‘violating essential constitutional protections and state laws,’ prompting New York officials to plan for the facility’s permanent closure,” Blanche wrote, citing a New York State Commission of Correction report from last year.

But Vance on Tuesday shared a letter he sent to Rosen on June 14 where he called Blanche’s claims “gratuitous.”

Vance paired his response with a letter that his office sent to the prison warden at FCI Loretto, where Manafort is serving a federal prison sentence in connection to bank and tax fraud charges.

Regarding Blanche’s assertion that New York planned to hold Manafort in solitary at Rikers, Assistant District Attorney Christopher Croney wrote: “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“To be clear, our request for temporary custody did not make any recommendation about where Mr. Manafort should be housed, or under what conditions, when he is transferred for the purpose of responding to the New York State charges against him,” Croney added. “Our office takes no position on the question of where Mr. Manafort should be housed when he is in New York, whether it be on Rikers Island (as the Blanche Letter presumes), another city facility, or a local federal facility such as the Metropolitan Correctional Center.”

Vance released the letters following reports this morning that Manafort has been transferred to the federal government’s Metropolitan Correction Center.

Blanche’s letter, which is included in the packet, criticizes New York’s case against Manafort as “politics at its worst.”

“Mr. Manafort is being prosecuted in New York for exactly the same conduct for which he has already been tried and sentenced in the Eastern District of Virginia,” Blanche wrote on May 17 to the warden at FCI Loretto. “Although this appears to be a blatant violation of New York’s long-standing and highly protective statutory ‘Double Jeopardy’ laws — which expressly prohibit the District Attorney from re-trying Mr. Manafort for New York State offenses premised on the same alleged ‘actor criminal transaction’ addressed in the prior federal case against him — the DA’s Office has chosen to move forward with this prosecution, and is now attempting to add insult to injury by insisting that Mr. Manafort remain on Rikers Island, likely in solitary confinement, pending trial, despite the absence of any legitimate need for him to do so.”

Like Vance, Croney described Blanche’s double-jeopardy claims as gratuitous , noting that “Mr. Manafort has been duly and properly indicted by a grand jury in New York County for a variety of serious financial crimes under New York law: crimes related to conduct for which he has not been held accountable by virtue of his federal prosecutions.”

“If Mr. Manafort believes he has valid statutory double jeopardy or other defenses to those state crimes, he will have a full opportunity to pursue such theories in the New York courts,” Croney added.

News of Manafort’s transfer on the heels of a Monday ruling by the Supreme Court, which upheld the “separate sovereigns” doctrine permitting state and federal prosecutors to bring criminal cases for similar conduct.

New York meanwhile has passed legislation plugging a so-called “double-jeopardy loophole” to prevent U.S. presidents from preventing state prosecutions with strategic pardons on federal crimes.

In New York, Manafort is charged with 16 counts pertaining to a yearlong residential mortgage fraud scheme. On Tuesday, a real estate contractor for the U.S. Marshals Service posted sales listings for two apartments that prosecutors seized from Manafort in connection with the federal case.

Manafort’s fourth-floor unit at 24 Howard Street and his apartment on the 43rd floor of Trump Tower both have list prices of roughly $3.6 million. 

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