Wealthy Turkish businessman seeks private jail pending trial

AP News
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Posted: Jun 02, 2016 6:16 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A wealthy Turkish businessman's lawyer tried to persuade a judge Thursday to let his client hire armed guards to keep him in a New York apartment while awaiting his trial on charges he helped Iran evade U.S. sanctions.

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman listened to arguments without ruling. At stake is where 32-year-old Reza Zarrab will await trial after his March arrest at Miami airport, where he had arrived on his way to a Disney World trip with his wife and 5-year-old daughter.

Zarrab's attorney, Benjamin Brafman, said a 15th-floor Manhattan apartment already has been specially outfitted for home detention. He said a security company has installed video cameras and security alarms to protect against an escape.

Brafman said Zarrab was ready to provide $10 million in cash to secure a $50 million bail package and would even sign a document agreeing guards can shoot him if he tries to escape.

There is precedent in Manhattan for letting wealthy defendants remain on bail when they pay for around-the-clock security by armed guards.

Ponzi king Bernard Madoff remained under guard in his apartment for several months after his December 2008 arrest for cheating thousands of investors out of billions of dollars. He is now serving a 150-year prison sentence. And Brafman last year secured a similar arrangement for a Chinese billionaire arrested in a United Nations bribery scandal. He still awaits trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard said Zarrab should remain jailed until trial because a makeshift private prison cannot guarantee he doesn't flee.

He referenced a published report describing how most prison escapes occur when prisoners are being transported outside prisons and said an escape attempt by Zarrab would endanger bystanders.

Lockard also said guards would be conflicted as to how to handle a use-of-force situation because Zarrab would be paying for their services.

He said there were conflicting opinions about whether it is fair for wealthy inmates to be able to pay for high security in a comfortable setting while defendants without money must sometimes remain in prison until trial.

Zarrab, educated in Turkey after his family left Iran when he was 1-year-old, is well known in Turkey, partly because he's married to Turkish pop star and TV personality Ebru Gundes.

He is charged with aiding Iran in its deception of the United States and the international banking system from 2010 to 2015, enabling millions of dollars to pass through. Other charges include bank fraud and money laundering.

In 2013, Zarrab was arrested in a Turkish government corruption case. He maintained his innocence, and the charges were dropped.