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Crime and Justice

Powerful Honduran businessman seeks "compassionate" release from US prison due to coronavirus

Yani Rosenthal, is the latest foreign national convicted of cocaine-trafficking-related charges to seek early “compassionate” release due to the coronavirus outbreak.
4 May 2020 – 03:31 PM EDT
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Yani Rosenthal campaigning in 2012. Crédito: Getty Images

Yani Rosenthal, a 54-year-old former Honduran politician who twice ran for president, is seeking early release from a Miami federal jail where he is serving time for drug money laundering, arguing that his health is in jeopardy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The former politician who twice ran for president, pleaded guilty in 2017 to one count of money laundering in the United States and received a substantially reduced three-year sentence after paying a $2.5 million fine.

He began serving his sentence two years ago in Miami federal prison. His release is currently scheduled for August 8, 2020.

But his lawyer on Friday filed a petition for early release in federal court in New York, citing a law that allows "prisoners with lower levels of risk and lower needs" to be confined to their homes for up to six months.

"Compelling reason"

“The combination of the covid-19 outbreak, Mr. Rosenthal’s medical conditions, his increased susceptibility to a deadly communicable disease that can kill him in prison (as opposed to in isolation at his home in Honduras), and the fact that Mr. Rosenthal has less than four months left on his sentence, presents an extraordinary and compelling reason warranting a sentence reduction to time served,” his lawyer, Michael Diaz, wrote in court documents.

“Keeping Mr. Rosenthal in prison for a few more months will not make a marginal difference in the deterrent effect of his punishment, as weighed against the severe risk to his health and well-being if he remains confined,” he stated.

Rosenthal denies he was knowingly involved in drug money laundering, noting that his family's meat packing business accidentally became entangled in the cattle operations of 'Los Cachiros," a notorious Honduran drug gang.

He is not the first convicted prisoner to seek compassionate release from prison on drug-related charges. Former Medelin cartel trafficker, Fabio Ochoa, aged 62, is seeking early release after serving more than 21 years in jail. A judge rejected the bid for early release of another Colombian trafficker, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, aged 81, the former leader of the Cali cartel.

The president, and his brother

Rosenthal is one of a long list of Honduran politicians and businessman accused of aiding drug traffickers in recent years, including another former legislator, Tony Hernandez, brother of the current president Juan Orlando Hernandez. Tony Hernandez was convicted of drug crimes last year and is awaiting sentencing in New York. President Hernandez has denied any ties to drug traffickers.

In 2015, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned three members of the Rosenthal family, and their family business, Grupo Continental, based in San Pedro Sula, as ‘Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers.’

Faces deportation

According to court documents, prison authorities initially denied the request saying Rosenthal does not meet the criteria for covid-19 home detention in the United States as he is a foreign national facing deportation.

“People incarcerated in prisons live in close proximity to each other, and have little access to hand sanitizer or the ability to engage in frequent hand washing and other safety measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), such as staying six feet away from other people,” Rosenthal's lawyer argued in the court filing.

“Moreover, prisons can cause covid-19 to spread like wildfire and introducing just one carrier of the virus (often individuals who are asymptomatic) could impact every other person inside a facility,” he added.

Rosenthal is currently suffering of chronic sinusitis and atopic dermatitis, according to Diaz, causing nasal congestion, inflammation of the skin and fatigue.

“Due to his age and medical condition, “if Mr. Rosenthal contracts covid-19, his life is in jeopardy because his immune system is not in optimal conditions, and any covid-19 related respiratory infection could destabilize [Mr. Rosenthal],” he stated.

Diaz also argued that Rosenthal was a model inmate. According to his prison rabbi , Menachem M. Katz, Rosenthal showed “complete remorse” behind bars and “had consistently strived to reach higher levels in an effort to live a more spiritual life,” including become a leader in many prayer groups.

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