Judge presses prosecutors to help U.S. citizen in Colombian prison

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 20, 2015 4:39 PM

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) - A Manhattan federal judge on Friday berated U.S. prosecutors for opposing the efforts of a U.S. citizen to leave the Colombian prison where he is currently incarcerated and return immediately to New York to face securities fraud charges.

U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe said at a hearing that the conditions faced by Kaleil Isaza Tuzman in Bogota's La Picota prison were "intolerable." Tuzman's attorneys, Avi Weitzman and Reed Brodsky, said in a letter to the judge earlier this month that Tuzman was facing constant violence at La Picota and feared for his life.

The former chief executive officer of now-bankrupt digital video company Kit Digital Inc is facing charges in the U.S. that he helped run a scheme with a hedge fund manager from 2008 to 2011 to artificially inflate his company's share price and trading volume.

Tuzman was arrested in Colombia in September at the request of U.S. authorities, who are seeking his extradition on the securities fraud charges. He had been in the country working on a luxury hotel project.

Weitzman and Brodksy asked Gardephe to vacate Tuzman's arrest warrant so he can leave the prison and surrender himself to officials at the U.S. embassy in Bogota, who could then arrange his transport to the U.S.

But prosecutors have said that they are bound by the U.S. extradition treaty with Colombia. Trying to get around the formal extradition process could harm relations between the U.S. and Colombia, they argue.

Gardephe said Friday that the situation called for "creative thinking," noting that the extradition process could take up to nine months.

"I believe that good people working together could find a creative solution here, but what's lacking for whatever reason is the motivation," he said.

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Tuzman graduated from Harvard and worked at Goldman Sachs before he achieved brief fame as an Internet entrepreneur. The rise and fall of Govworks.com, the company Tuzman started with a friend, was the subject of the 2001 documentary Startup.com.

Gardephe ordered the government to submit written statements from people at the U.S. State Department and the Justice Department's Office of International Affairs explaining why they could not do more to help Tuzman by next Wednesday.

The case is U.S. v. Tuzman, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-cr-536.