By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Michael Avenatti is living in a jail cell that reportedly once housed convicted Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, making it impossible for the celebrity lawyer to prepare for his upcoming extortion trial, his lawyers said.
In a filing late on Monday night, Avenatti’s lawyers said their client is in solitary confinement under 24-hour lockdown on a floor in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Manhattan that houses people charged with terrorism offenses.
They asked that Avenatti, a self-described “nemesis” of Donald Trump who represented pornographic actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against the U.S. president, be moved to the general population to prepare for a trial, which could start next week.
But the jail’s warden on Tuesday offered no sign that will happen, though Avenatti will be allowed to meet with lawyers, make phone calls and keep legal materials in his cell.
“Due to Mr. Avenatti’s high profile case, his notoriety, Mr. Avenatti’s placement is for his own safety,” the warden wrote to U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe in Manhattan, without saying which cell houses Avenatti.
The warden also said Avenatti had not been placed under “special administrative measures,” which the defendant’s lawyers said had almost completely blocked his contact with outsiders.
The Manhattan jail has long faced criticism for its living conditions.
At his sentencing last July, Guzman described living there as “psychological, emotional, mental torture 24 hours a day.”
Guzman and Sayfullo Saipov, who was charged with killing eight people by driving a pickup truck down a Manhattan bike lane in October 2017, are among inmates at the jail who have faced special administrative measures.
Another former inmate, financier Jeffrey Epstein, committed suicide in his jail cell last August while awaiting trial on sexual abuse charges.
The warden did not address claims by Avenatti’s lawyers that their client has had “great difficulty functioning,” and was sleeping with three blankets because the temperature felt like the mid-40s (6-8 degrees Celsius).
Avenatti was charged with threatening to publicize accusations that Nike Inc illegally paid families of college basketball recruits unless the sportswear company paid him $15 million to $25 million to conduct a probe.
Prosecutors also charged him with concealing a settlement offer from his client.
Avenatti has pleaded not guilty. He was jailed last week in California after prosecutors there said he violated bail conditions in a separate criminal case. Avenatti was flown on Friday to Manhattan.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Nick Zieminski)