Brooklyn rapper Tekashi69 has asked to be released early from lockup due to the spread of the coronavirus inside New York’s prison system—arguing he is a high-risk inmate because of his asthma.
In a Sunday letter to Manhattan federal Judge Paul Engelmayer, attorney Lance Lazzaro requested that the 23-year-old rainbow-haired rapper, whose real name is Daniel Hernandez, be released from state prison early as he’s been complaining of “shortness of breath,” one of the symptoms of COVID-19.
Tekashi69 was sentenced in December to 24 months in prison after being convicted of nine federal crimes, including racketeering and drug charges, under a cooperation deal with the feds that forced him to testify against his former associates in the notorious New York City street gang Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods. He is expected to complete his sentence on July 31.
“While I recognize that his release date is only about four months away, given the health crisis that is currently tearing through this region and Mr. Hernandez’s compromised medical condition, please strongly consider modifying Mr. Hernandez’s sentence so as to immediately make him eligible for home confinement,” Lazzaro said in the letter obtained by The Daily Beast.
The lawyer added that Tekashi had bronchitis and sinusitis on Oct. 31, 2019, and his asthma has forced him to be hospitalized “regularly due to serious asthma attacks.”
Tekashi is one of several high-profile inmates who have requested an early release amid the ongoing pandemic, including former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, infamous scammer Bernard Madoff, and lawyer Michael Avenatti.
The Southern District of New York denied Cohen’s request on Monday, stating that the former lawyer’s “cursory submission fails to offer any factual support for his claim or any legal basis upon which his motion could be granted” and that the Bureau of Prisons has been actively protecting its inmates. Avenatti was also denied his request—which stated the former lawyer previously had pneumonia and was bunking with an inmate that exhibited symptoms consistent with the coronavirus.
On Sunday, an inmate at New York City’s Metropolitan Detention Center tested positive for COVID-19—the first case of the virus in the federal prison system. According to the New York City Board of Corrections, there are currently 38 inmates in the city’s jail system who have tested positive—prompting Mayor Bill de Blasio to begin to release dozens of inmates who are most vulnerable.
“It seems like just a matter of time before all prisons in the area are hit with this virus, both inmates and guards,” Lazzaro said. “Mr. Hernandez has been complaining to prison officials this week of shortness of breath, but apparently the warden of his facility will not allow Mr. Hernandez to go to the hospital despite the recommendation of the facility’s medical director that Mr. Hernandez is treated by a doctor at a hospital.”
The lawyer added that since Tekashi69 “is at a very high risk of death or serious complications if he contracts the coronavirus,” the rapper should be allowed to complete his four-month sentence in home confinement.
During his three-day trial testimony as the government’s star witness, Tekashi69 linked two alleged gang members to several crimes and admitted to participating in “robberies, assaults,” and “drugs.” Both men were later convicted of racketeering conspiracy charges.
The rapper also detailed the symbiotic relationship he had with the Nine Trey Bloods: The gang gave him protection and the street credibility that helped jumpstart his career, and in exchange, he funded their illicit activities.
Due to his controversial decision to flip on his former gang members, Tekashi69 has been serving his sentence in an undisclosed federal facility in New York City.
The rapper became a social-media star in 2014 thanks to his extreme music videos on Instagram and YouTube that featured guns, drugs, and various allusions to the Bloods gang.
After several years as a SoundCloud-rapper, the 22-year-old entered the mainstream music scene with “FEFE,” his hit single that he co-wrote with Nicki Minaj in 2018. The rapper told jurors that he was first introduced to the street gang in 2017 while filming a music video for his first single, “GUMMO.”