Former Rep. Chris Collins wants to delay his prison report date for a fifth time because of COVID-19 concerns, but prosecutors say it’s time he gets behind bars at FPC Pensacola.
It has been over a year since Collins pleaded guilty and nearly nine months since he was sentenced to 26 months in prison for insider trading and lying to the FBI.
Lawyers for the New York Republican argued, in an Oct. 1 emergency motion, to delay his report date because the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage. They say Collins should be able to delay his prison start date to Dec. 8, instead of the scheduled Oct. 13 report date, or alternatively serve his sentence in home confinement.
Collins’ lawyer, Jonathan New, cited health experts, including Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has warned the United States will face challenges as flu season approaches.
On Jan. 17, Collins was sentenced to two years and two months in prison and initially was scheduled to report to FPC Pensacola on March 17. The surrender date was pushed back to April and then the pandemic allowed Collins, now 70 years old and as such at higher risk as a senior citizen, to receive further delays.
Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the Bureau of Prisons has shown it can control COVID-19 infection rates in its facilities, making it appropriate for Collins to report to prison at FPC Pensacola, a minimum security prison camp in Florida.
When a prisoner enters the facility, they undergo an extensive COVID-19 testing and quarantine process, Strauss said in an Oct. 7 filing that opposes Collins’ request.
“These protocols have proven successful. Over the past six months, not a single case of COVID-19 has been detected among the general population of prisoners at FPC Pensacola and the BOP’s screening procedures have been able to cut off potential entry points for the disease,” Strauss said.
“Contrary to Collins’s suggestion, this remarkable track record cannot be explained away as a product of inadequate testing. Since the pandemic began, Pensacola, which currently houses just over 300 prisoners, has tested over 50 prisoners, including, as discussed, all prisoners entering or leaving the facility, as well as any prisoners who exhibit credible COVID-19 symptoms,” she said.
Further, Strauss noted that while it was appropriate to delay Collins’ surrender date earlier on in the pandemic, the prison has shown it can control the infection rate and that Collins should report there on Oct. 13.
“The public has an interest in seeing justice done in this case without further delay,” Strauss said. “It is time for Collins to begin his prison sentence.”
On Oct. 8, Collins’ lawyer filed a reply that cited an anticipated resurgence of the coronavirus and recent upswings in Florida infections as reasons to further delay Collins’ report date. The reply argues the government cannot provide assurance that the former lawmaker will be safe in prison over the next few months.
“Justice will not be served by requiring Mr. Collins to report to prison now,” New said in the filing.