Prison warden: Michael Avenatti kept in solitary confinement for 'his own safety'

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Michael Avenatti, attorney and founding partner of Eagan Avenatti LP, center, leaves the federal court in New York, U.S., on Monday, March 25, 2019. Avenatti was charged by federal prosecutors on both coasts, accused in New York of trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike Inc. and in Los Angeles of embezzling money from a client and defrauding a bank. Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(CNN) — Michael Avenatti is being held in solitary confinement at a New York federal prison for his own safety, the facility’s warden said Tuesday.

Avenatti’s attorneys said Monday that he was housed in a freezing cell at the New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) and the isolation was hampering his defense.

In a letter to US District Judge Paul G. Gardephe, MCC’s Warden M. Licon-Vitale said Avenatti has been in solitary confinement because of “his notoriety” and his “high profile case.”

Licon-Vitale responded to a court order requiring an explanation to Avenatti’s current conditions of confinement.

Avenatti became a household name as the attorney for Stormy Daniels when the adult film star sued President Donald Trump.

Since then, federal prosecutors in New York and California have charged Avenatti with a spate of financial crimes, including allegations of fraud, embezzlement and trying to extort Nike for millions of dollars.

Avenatti was jailed without bond last week until his trial for probable violations of his pretrial conditions, including allegedly hiding his assets to defraud creditors.

The attorneys are asking for Avenatti to be moved to the general inmate population of the jail, where he would have the same ability to confer with counsel. The current situation, they say, “is truly hampering our ability to prepare for trial.”

Avenatti’s cell is freezing, attorneys say

On Monday, Avenatti’s attorneys said their letter to Gardephe that Avenatti “has been locked down for 24 hours a day, in solitary confinement, except for attorney visits and two medical exams.”

“He is in a cell reportedly once occupied by El Chapo, on a floor that houses individuals charged with terrorism offenses,” the letter reads.

“The temperature in his cell feels like it is in the mid-40s. He is forced to sleep with three blankets. Not surprisingly, he has been having great difficulty functioning.”

Read the letter from Avenatti’s attorneys

Licon-Vitale did not address the alleged cold conditions in the cell, it’s location or previous occupants.

He will get more access to legal materials

Warden Licon-Vitale told the judge on Tuesday that Avenatti’s access to legal materials and counsel visits will be changing.

The prison, according to Licon-Vitale, will allow Avenatti to have contact visits, as opposed to non-contact where people are separated by a partition.

Avenatti’s attorneys had said they were required to meet with him during a non-contact visit, which made it difficult for him to review documents in the case, without help from guards transporting documents into his section.

“Although the officers allowed Mr. Avenatti to review a document at our request at the beginning of our visit, if we wanted him to review any additional documents, it would have required us to disturb the busy officers and have them repeatedly transfer documents back and forth,” the letter reads.

After the attorneys said they wanted Avenatti to be allowed to keep legal materials in his cell; have access to a computer, like other pretrial detainees, to review legal material; and have the same social call privileges as general population detainees so he can communicate with his family to help make arrangements with third parties to fund his defense.

Licon-Vitale said Avenatti will be able to keep legal materials in his cell and he will have access to a computer to review discovery on CDs at his request as well as access to social phone calls every day.

“Staff will give him the opportunity to choose a consistent daily time that works for him, his family and his legal visits,” the warden wrote.

Last April, in a wide-ranging interview with CNN, Avenatti said he’s “been humbled significantly” in the face of his legal troubles.

“There’s been a lot of highs and there’s been a lot of lows, and, frankly, I’ve attempted not to get too high,” he said at the time. “Sometimes I’ve failed, but I’ve attempted not to get too high. Right now I’m trying not to get too low.”

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