The form in question, a two-sided document entitled “Federal Location Monitoring Program Participant Agreement”, had urged Cohen to refrain from communicating with the media members – a provision he had struggled with in the pending publication of his story a book his legal team has claimed is unusual.
Defense attorneys and legal experts that CNN spoke with on Friday said the form seemed to be adapted to Cohen, the flamboyant former fixer to President Donald Trump, whose affiliation with the press is well known. Some called it unfair.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my years of practice putting a license on such a person,” said Lance Lazzaro, whose client, rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine, drew more than 2 million people to a live stream on Instagram in May ̵
A spokesman for the U.S. District Court Administrative Office, the judicial agency overseeing the federal probation system, declined to comment on the details of Cohen’s case, but added that no standard forms include languages related to media contacts.
A Bureau of Prisons spokesman told CNN that Cohen was taken into custody after he “declined to accept the terms of the program and placement in the home.”
In May, as the coronavirus continued to spread through the federal correctional system, Cohen walked out of New York’s Otisville prison on furlough status, halfway through his three-year sentence for tax evasion, congressional lies and campaign finance violations to facilitate hefty money payments to two women who alleged business dealings with Trump, which the president has denied.
Cohen had at least returned to a mostly quiet life with his family before Thursday, when he arrived just before 11 o’clock in the lower Manhattan court to negotiate the terms of his transfer to home decision with two probation officers.
There, along with his lawyer, he received the form. While most of the language in the document was impossible to label and standard – don’t talk to convicted felons, let your family do food shopping – the first item was worrying for Cohen and his lawyer, Jeffrey Levine. The provision prohibited Cohen from publishing on social media and prohibited him from engaging in the media – specifically listed “books”.
“The purpose is to avoid glamorization or to gain publicity for your status as a convicted prisoner serving a life in the community,” reads the document obtained by CNN.
Levine said defense attorneys made their “objections known to probation officers” on the line but had refused to sign anything when US marshals arrived and began cracking Cohen.
“I’ll sign exactly what you want me to sign so I don’t have to go to jail,” Cohen told the Marshals, according to another of his attorneys, Lanny Davis, but the Marshals said it was out of their hands.
Cohen’s discreet book is said to be in its final stages of edits before a September issue.
Levine said Cohen disappeared.
“It was in his eyes,” he said. “He was so shaken. The carpet had been pulled under him. This is not what we came here to do today.”
Earlier this month, a photographer from the New York Post caught Cohen at a restaurant near his apartment. When asked if that incident was related to his prison Thursday, Levine told reporters outside the court, “I would leave it to your viewers.”
Elie Honig, a former Manhattan prosecutor who is now a white-collar criminal defense lawyer at the Lowenstein Sandler law firm and serves as a legal analyst on CNN, said the test office seemed to overstep its role.
“At least this is an overshoot of the probation department. The test’s purpose is to protect the community, protect the applicants and ensure that the probationers do not flee. he said.
The legal experts said monitoring conditions could be adapted to a prisoner, usually to suit the crime for which they were sentenced.
Since March, the Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons have released thousands of non-violent and vulnerable prisoners early as a result of the pandemic. In federal and state prisons, many prisoners have tested positive for the virus – many of which showed no symptoms when infected.
Some prisoners have been released under various legal mechanisms, which may be part of how they are monitored by the test office after they are released.
Cohen was released under a Bureau of Prisons program after meeting certain criteria set by the agency regarding how much time he had served and his vulnerability to the virus. Other prisoners have had their sentences reduced by federal judges.
The federal probation office, located under the Bureau of Prisons, which sits under the Justice Department, said the monitoring form belonged to the probation office.
Lawyers for several other prisoners released early from the federal prison system in the midst of the pandemic said that paperwork for their clients’ home detention had not included the provision of media.
“In general, when people are released early for some reason, they have the same restrictions in the home decision that they would have had at the prison office,” said H. Dean Steward, the attorney representing celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti. “It sounds like this would even be beyond it.”
Although there were no restrictions on talking to the media as a condition for Avenatti to be released, he was prevented from using the internet outside to talk to his lawyers and restrict him to a cellphone for communication.