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Rich and poor defendants must be subject to equal bail arrangements, court rules

The decision against a "two-tiered bail system" where wealthy defendants are released under private security guard may complicate Jeffrey Epstein's hopes of getting out of jail.

The federal appeals court's decision may complicate alleged

The federal appeals court's decision may complicate alleged sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein's hopes of getting out of jail. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images/HO

A Manhattan federal appeals court Thursday ruled it is improper to grant bail to wealthy defendants based on privately paid security arrangements that poor defendants can’t afford in a decision that may complicate alleged sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein's hopes of getting out of jail.

“The Bail Reform Act does not permit a two-tiered bail system in which defendants of lesser means are detained pending trial while wealthy defendants are released to self-funded private jails,” the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

The decision came in the case of Jean Boustani, a Lebanese man charged in an international fraud involving Mozambican debt, who was the latest in a series of high-profile defendants — including Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng and Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab — to seek release by hiring armed guards to watch them.

Epstein, 66, the multimillionaire financier accused of sexual activities with “dozens” of underage girls, was the latest to propose such an arrangement after his July arrest. He wanted to await trial in his Upper East Side mansion, monitored by cameras, an ankle bracelet and guards.

Manhattan U.S. District Judge Richard Berman found that Epstein’s wealth, connections and behavior made him a flight risk and a danger, and rejected the plan. Epstein, awaiting a yet-to-be-scheduled trial next year at the federal jail in Manhattan, has appealed to the Second Circuit.

Boustani, facing charges in Brooklyn federal court, suggested a similar home-confinement arrangement that was rejected by U.S. District Judge William Kuntz.

The Second Circuit said such a plan might be acceptable in only one situation — where a defendant’s wealth provided an ability to flee that was the primary basis for detention. In that situation, the court said, it might be OK to level the playing field by using the money to hire private security.

But in situations where other factors — such as acts of deception and ties to non-extraditing foreign countries — created a risk of flight, it would be unfair to allow wealth to secure a release, the court said.

“Such a two-tiered system would “foster inequity and unequal treatment in favor of a very small cohort of criminal defendants who are extremely wealthy,” the judges said.

A lawyer for Boustani declined comment on the decision or plans to seek further review. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn also declined comment, and lawyers for Epstein did not immediately respond to questions about the impact on his case.

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