prison break
prison break

By Barnini Chakraborty | Fox News

From 71-year-old federal fraudsters to Colombian drug lords, there has been a mad dash of high-profile prisoners petitioning the courts for a compassionate or restricted release in the wake of COVID-19.

That means, while others are locked up in cramped over-crowded cells, they get to go home.

Criminal justice advocates have rallied around the early release campaign for non-violent offenders, saying it’s an important step in controlling the fast-spreading, highly contagious coronavirus that has infected more than 2.5 million worldwide.

In early April, following a spike of coronavirus cases in the nation’s prisons, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said there would be more flexibility as to who is eligible for an early release. However, after a series of conflicting messages, the Department of Justice issued a clarification on Thursday and updated its criteria. Those who are eligible must not only be at-risk but must also have served more than 50 percent of the their sentence or have 18 months or less remaining.

Fox News has broken down a list of high-profile inmates who are pleading with the court to let them out.

In some cases, their requests have been granted. In others, they are awaiting a decision.



Top Trump agitator Michael Avenatti walked out of a New York jail on April 23 on a temporary reprieve over coronavirus fears.

The celebrity attorney whose clients include adult film star Stormy Daniels was released from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan around 11 a.m., his attorney Dean Steward told Fox News, but is required to return to the facility in 90 days.

Avenatti has been in quarantine for the past two weeks at the facility to make sure he doesn’t have signs of the novel coronavirus.

In court filings, his attorney argued that Avenatti had pneumonia six months ago and was at risk of being infected by COVID-19.

Avenatti boarded a plane for his friend’s house in Venice, Cali., where he’ll be holed up for the next three months. As part of his 90-day spring break, he will be forced to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and prohibited from tweeting from his status.


Paul Manafort, the man President Trump claimed had been treated worse than notorious gangster Al Capone, has made the case he should be given a get-out-of-jail-free card because he could contract coronavirus – even though no one at the prison where he’s serving his sentence has it.

His lawyers, though, say it’s only a matter of time before Manafort, 71, gets it and has urged the court to allow him to spend the next four-and-a-half years at home with his wife Kathleen.

Manafort, who owned a condo in Trump Tower and was a power broker in D.C. politics for decades, joined Trump’s campaign on March 29, 2016. He had resigned/was fired in August.

Pre-Trump, Manafort’s lobbying firm, Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly, had several controversial clients including violent dictators, corrupt governments and people tied to drug traffickers. He made millions from his business dealings and would frequently be seen in designer suits from what is considered one of the most expensive men’s store in the world.

Manafort’s business dealings in Ukraine caught the eye of special prosecutor Robert Mueller and he was eventually convicted on foreign lobbying and witness tampering charges.

He showed up to his sentencing hearing in a wheelchair with one shoe off. He said his conviction had humbled him and that he had a “new self-awareness.”

Since then, Manafort’s lawyers have worked to transfer him from his cell to his home. In a letter obtained by Politico, his lawyer argued to the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the prison warden that because of Manafort’s “age and pre-existing health conditions,” it was imperative that he be allowed to leave.


In this May 6, 2019, file photo, Michael Cohen, former attorney to President Donald Trump, leaves his apartment building before beginning his prison term in New York. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen, File)

President Trump’s former BFF and personal attorney Michael Cohen has been granted a compassionate release from Otisville prison in upstate New York based on an unspecified, underlying medical condition that he has purportedly been hospitalized for, his lawyer Roger Adler said.

Cohen was arrested and sentenced to three years in federal prison for lying to Congress and violating campaign finance laws when he paid hush-money to women who claimed they had affairs with Trump before he became president.

The New York Post reported that Cohen has been busy behind bars penning a tell-all book about his time as Trump’s attorney and plans to publish it before the presidential election in November.

Cohen’s pal, comedian Tom Arnold, told the Daily Beast that he’s been in regular contact with Cohen and that his bombshell book would take no prisoners.

“It’s like ‘Jaws- you don’t see Jaws (the shark) very much, but you hear the music, and for Trump, he knows Michael is coming and Trump better hear the ‘Jaws’ music,” Arnold said, adding that the 53-year-old disbarred lawyer has nothing to lose.


Among the high-profile inmates who want out is infamous Colombian cartel leader Gilberto Rodriguez-Orejuela.

The 81-year-old kingpin and his family led a powerful and violent cartel based in California that turned the deadly narcotics business into a corporate-like enterprise that exported 200 tons of the drug worth $2 billion into the United States.

He and his brother Miguel pleaded guilty in 2006 to cocaine-smuggling conspiracy charges and made a deal to spend 30 years in prison in exchange for federal authorities not going after their family members.

U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno described Rodriguez-Orejuela as a “big time drug dealer” at a February hearing where his lawyers asked that the octogenarian be released after spending 15 years in prison. At the hearing prosecutors pushed back on claims that Rodriguez-Orejuela was at “death’s door,” arguing he had recovered from prostate and colon cancer.


Lawyers for Fyre Festival CEO and founder Willam McFarland have petitioned the court for his early release.

The 28-year-old event promoter pleaded guilty in March 2018 to wire fraud and is currently serving a six-year prison sentence for his 2017 Bahamas-based music festival. McFarland scammed ticket holders and investors out of millions of dollars.

His lawyers argue he should be allowed to leave prison early because his alleged history of asthma, allergies and heart issues put him at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 behind bars.

Surprisingly, McFarland told the New York Post that he’s not worried about catching coronavirus but supports the release of at-risk prisoners.

“Elderly people who are at the greatest medical risk should definitely be considered for release,” he said.

His comments were published in an April 3 article in which he claimed prison had changed him and that he was starting a new crowd-funding project behind bars for inmates to call their friends and family during the coronavirus outbreak.

He swears it’s not a scam.


One of New York’s most peculiar criminals has also asked the court to shave time off her sentence.

Viktoriya Nasyrova grabbed headlines after being accused of trying to kill her look-alike in 2016 with a poisoned cheesecake.

The Russian native, 45, has been locked up at the Rose M. Singer Center in East Elmhurst, N.Y. for the past three years.

One day after the cheesecake incident, she returned to Olga Tsvyk’s home with poisoned chicken soup. When the beautician was knocked out, Nasyrova stole Tsvyk’s passport, some cash and a gold ring after trying to stage the scene to make it look like a suicide attempt.

Nasyrova has also been accused of drugging and killing a woman in Russia and then seducing the lead detective on the case before hopping a flight to New York in 2014. She was arrested in March 2017.

Last month she told the New York Post she fears for her life amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’re all going to drop dead here,” she said.


“Pharma bro” Martin Shkreli, the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals who bragged about jacking up prices on lifesaving drugs, is also seeking an early release but his lawyers claim it’s because he’s got a heart of gold and is interested in helping find a cure for COVID-19.

Court papers filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., state the often-smirking Shkreli, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2017 on securities fraud and conspiracy charges, can be a more productive member of society when he’s not behind bars.

They claim the Wu-tang Clan loving 37-year-old has “devoted countless hours” to developing a cure and wants to be allowed to serve the rest of his sentence at home with an electronic monitor.

Although his lawyers claim his work on COVID-19 is in its “preliminary stages,” they said Shkreli is a “skilled medical researcher” who has committed his life’s work to the “life sciences and rare disease community.”

Shkreli gained notoriety in 2015 after he raised the price of anti-parisitic drug Daraprim by 5,000 percent. Though the move angered just about everyone who heard it, his downfall was linked to his management at Retrophin and the hedge fund MSMB Capital Management between 2009 and 2012.

There is no word on whether Wu-tang Clan will play a celebratory concert should Shkreli be granted an early release.


Brooklyn rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine (Daniel Hernandez) was released from a federal lockup to serve out the remainder of his two-year racketeering sentence at home.

Lawyers for the 23-year-old who suffers from asthma and was once hospitalized for bronchitis, secured his release after convincing U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer that his asthma presented an “extraordinary and compelling” reason to get out of jail early.

Hernandez, who has multiple face tattoos and used to sport a multi-colored man bun, pleaded guilty last year after testifying against members of Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods, a Rikers Island jail gang. He said the money made off of his music helped the group “so they could buy guns and stuff.”

Hernandez’s lawyer asked a federal judge on April 23 if his client could extend the perimeters of his house arrest and make music videos in his backyard.


FT. LAUDERDALE, FL – FEBRUARY 13: In this handout photo provided by the Broward’s Sheriff’s Office, rapper YNW Melly, real name Jamell Demons, is seen in a police booking photo after being charged with two counts of murder in the first degree February 13, 2019 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  (Broward Sheriff’s Office/Getty)

Lawyers on behalf of rapper YNW Melly (Jamelle Maurice Demons) claimed in legal documents that the 20-year-old was on the verge of dying and should be a candidate for restricted release.

They say Demons, who has been charged with double murder in the deaths of two fellow rappers, has the chills, head and body aches.

They said the Gillford, Fla., native has lost a lot of weight in prison and hasn’t had access to adequate healthcare.

Demons, best known for his songs “Murder on My Mind” and “Mixed Personalities,” says he fears for his life and that jail isn’t equipped to deal with the deadly pandemic.

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