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Once a Trump Foil, Michael Avenatti Says Jail Treatment Was Payback

Michael Avenatti, who rose to prominence as the lawyer representing a pornographic film actress in lawsuits against former President Donald J. Trump and was later convicted of trying to extort Nike, is seeking millions of dollars in compensation for harsh jail conditions that he says were retaliation for his outspoken criticism of Mr. Trump.

Mr. Avenatti’s claims come just weeks before he faces trial in Manhattan in another criminal case, on charges that he stole about $300,000 from Stormy Daniels, the actress, who was at the center of a scandal during Mr. Trump’s first presidential campaign. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Mr. Avenatti’s lawyers said he was seeking the compensation under the Federal Tort Claims Act, a law that will allow him to sue the government if the claim is not settled within six months.

“They treated him very differently than anybody else in prison,” one of his lawyers, Zachary Margulis-Ohnuma, said on Thursday. “Once they had him in custody, they held him in a unit for violent criminals and terrorists.”

Mr. Avenatti, 50, was arrested and jailed in January 2020 after prosecutors said he had violated the terms of his bail in a fraud case he faced in California. Mr. Avenatti said in his claim that he had initially been held in solitary confinement in the Santa Ana Jail in Orange County and had then been taken to Manhattan and detained at the now-closed Metropolitan Correctional Center, much of that time in its most secure wing, 10 South.

Traditionally, 10 South was used to hold detainees charged with terrorism and other notorious crimes. Its most notable recent occupant was Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo.

“To take a man who has lived for decades without any criminal convictions, no history of violence,” Mr. Avenatti said in a phone interview with one of his lawyers on the line, “and within 72 hours put him under these conditions where he is housed in the most restrictive, diabolical unit in the entire United States for pretrial detainees, is unheard-of.”

Mr. Avenatti’s claim, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times by his lawyers, says that while he was in detention, he spent about 94 days in solitary confinement or under locked-down status. “For the vast majority of that time period, I was in 10 South,” he said in the interview.

Last July, when he was sentenced to two and a half years in the Nike case, Judge Paul G. Gardephe of Federal District Court observed that Mr. Avenatti had been held “in horrific conditions at the M.C.C. for more than three months, in solitary confinement for much of the time and in lockdown for nearly all of it; first, because a loaded handgun had been smuggled by someone into the facility, and later because of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“Conditions were terrible,” the judge added. “It’s hard to believe they could occur in the United States of America.”

Mr. Avenatti was released from jail in late April 2020 and has been held in home confinement in California ever since, another of his lawyers, Daniel McGuinness, said.

Mr. Avenatti said in the papers that while he was at the M.C.C., he had been prohibited from speaking with relatives or friends, he had been provided no access to fresh air or recreation, temperatures at night had been frigid, and he had been permitted to see the sky only once.

When he asked for reading material, he said in his claim, he was initially refused and was then provided one book: “Trump: The Art of the Deal.”

Mr. Avenatti says in the claim that the month after he was detained, a senior jail employee escorted him from a legal visit to his cell and asked if he understood why he was being housed in 10 South.

According to Mr. Avenatti’s claim, “The employee explained that the orders came from the attorney general” — William P. Barr at the time.

Mr. Barr, asked for comment on Mr. Avenatti’s claims, responded with one word: “Ridiculous.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

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Regionales

‘Devastated’: Crowds Throng Funeral Service for 15 Bronx Fire Victims

A line of black hearses began pulling up outside the doors of the Islamic Cultural Center in the Bronx just after 10 a.m. on Sunday. They maneuvered past throngs of distraught mourners who had flocked to the mosque to say a final goodbye to friends, children, parents and cousins killed in a fire that took the lives of 17 members of a close-knit Gambian community.

Indoors, women consoled each other in a second-floor prayer space as the men gathered downstairs. Outside, two tents were filled with families watching the funeral service on a livestream.

Aminata Sillah, 42, had arrived early. She laid a blue prayer rug on the ground in the frigid morning air, tugging anxiously at her boots.

Ms. Sillah’s aunt, Fatoumata Drammeh, was among those who died on Jan. 9 as acrid smoke filled the apartment building on East 181st Street, suffocating people as they tried to flee the 19-story complex. Ms. Drammeh’s three children also died and were among the 15 people being honored during Sunday’s communal funeral service.

“I’m devastated,” Ms. Sillah said. “It’s been a restless week.”

An imam urged people to clear a path as the coffins, draped in black velvet cloth and held aloft by more than two dozen men, were carried inside the mosque.

“It’s just painful,” Haji Dukuray, 60, said before falling silent as a tiny, child-size coffin was placed near where he sat in the front row on a green prayer rug.

“All this innocence, these young kids,” Mr. Dukuray said. “They have no business being here.”

Yahya Sankara, 33, who lost his sister and two nephews, sighed loudly as his eyes began to tear up.

“My heart is done,” Mr. Sankara said. “I have nothing to say.”

New York’s new mayor, Eric Adams; the state’s attorney general, Letitia James; and Senator Chuck Schumer were among the elected leaders who attended the packed funeral service.

The fire, ignited by a space heater, was the city’s deadliest blaze in decades.

The blaze began just before 11 a.m. on a similarly chilly Sunday morning a week ago. Eight children were among the dead.

As the service started, the imam, Sankung Jeitteh, said he was struggling to control his emotions as he listed the names of families — Dukuray, Drammeh, Jambang, Konteh, Tunkara, Toure — decimated by the blaze.

“When the Lord asks for something, we have no choice but to agree,” he said, adding, “I’m trying to control myself.”

Family members started to quietly sob.

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Regionales

New York Governor Offers Hopeful Sign as Daily Cases Fall by 47%

Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, warned on Sunday that the Omicron surge of coronavirus cases had not yet peaked nationally, saying that the next few weeks would be very difficult in many parts of the country as hospitalizations and deaths rise.

In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Dr. Murthy noted the “good news” of the plateaus and drops in known cases in the Northeast, especially in New York City and New Jersey.

But “the challenge is that the entire country is not moving at the same pace,” he said, adding “we shouldn’t expect a national peak in the coming days.”

“The next few weeks will be tough,” he said.

The highly contagious Omicron variant has fueled an explosive surge of known cases, with an average of more than 800,000 new cases a day reported on Saturday, according to a New York Times database.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, also expressed concerns that the next several weeks would overwhelm hospitals and staff. “Right now we’re at about 150,000 people in the hospital with Covid,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “That’s more than we’ve ever had. I expect those numbers to get substantially higher.”

In addition, Omicron has brought into sharp relief the longstanding lack of adequate testing supplies, with consumers now depleting pharmacies of costly rapid tests — a boxed set of two tests ranges from $14 to $24 — and creating long lines at testing sites.

The federal government has promised to distribute one billion rapid at-home coronavirus tests to Americans, limiting each household to request four free tests. And new federal rules require private insurers to cover up to eight at-home tests per member a month.

But with the test orders and reimbursement processes hampered by delays, Americans will likely not have tests in hand for weeks, which may be too late in some places where demand is high as infections spread.

“We’ve ordered too few testing kits, so our testing capacity has continued to lag behind each wave,” Tom Bossert, the homeland security adviser to President Trump, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “It’s too little and too late, but noteworthy for the next wave.”

While many people infected with Omicron have had no or mild symptoms, others — especially those who were not vaccinated and those with chronic conditions — suffered more serious illnesses that were already overwhelming hospitals in some states late last year.

Dr. Murthy disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision last week that rejected President Biden’s vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers that would have applied to more than 80 million workers.

“Well, the news about the workplace requirement being blocked was very disappointing,” Dr. Murthy said. “It was a setback for public health. Because what these requirements ultimately are helpful for is not just protecting the community at large; but making our workplaces safer for workers as well as for customers.”

Nearly 63 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, but only 38 percent of those have received a booster shot, which some have argued should be the new definition of full vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed the definition of full vaccination, but said recently it considers three doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna’s vaccines to be “up-to-date,” as well as Johnson & Johnson’s shots with a second dose, preferably of Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech.

Last week, the C.D.C. finally acknowledged that cloth masks do not offer as much protection as a surgical mask or respirator, which some experts have urged the agency to recommend for the general public.

“Please, please get vaccinated,” Dr. Murthy said on ABC, issuing a reminder that the shots still provide good protection against severe illness. “It’s still not too late.”

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Regionales

Homes That Sold for $520,000 or Less

Each week, our survey of recent residential sales in New York City and the surrounding region focuses on homes that sold around a certain price point, allowing you to compare single-family homes, condos and co-ops in different locales.

The “list price” is the asking price when the property came on the market with the most recent broker. The time on the market is measured from the most recent listing to the closing date of the sale.

BROOKLYN | 1 BEDROOM, 1 BATH

This 700-square-foot postwar co-op has hardwood floors, a southern exposure and an open kitchen with a breakfast bar in a non-doorman elevator building with a live-in superintendent.

20 weeks on the market

$375,000 list price

1% below list price

Costs $643 a month in maintenance

Listing broker Keller Williams


Connecticut | 2 bedrooms, 3 baths

This 45-year-old, 2,026-square-foot, semidetached condo has an open floor plan, a kitchen with granite counters and island seating and two decks in a complex for those aged 55 and over.

12 weeks on the market

$439,900 list price

Less than 1% above list price

Costs $9,543 a year in taxes; $463 a month in common charges

A 577-square-foot prewar condo with hardwood floors, an eat-in kitchen with granite counters, a bedroom with French doors and a windowed walk-in closet in a non-doorman walk-up building.

31 weeks on the market

$435,000 list price

6% below list price

Costs $5,168 a year in taxes; $405 a month in common charges

Listing broker Triplemint


Long Island | 2 bedrooms, 2½ baths

This 36-year-old, 1,305-square-foot, townhouse-style condo has a living room with a stone fireplace, two walk-in closets and two decks in a complex with a pool and tennis courts.

17 weeks on the market

$499,000 list price

4% above list price

Costs $13,209 a year in taxes; $350 a month in common charges

Listing broker Douglas Elliman


Westchester | 1 bedroom, 1 bath

A 32-year-old, 774-square-foot condo, with hardwood floors, a pass-through kitchen that has granite counters, and a washer and dryer in a high-rise doorman building with a gym, indoor pool and pond.

21 weeks on the market

$389,000 list price

6% below list price

Costs $4,911 a year in taxes; $569 a month in common charges

Listing broker Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty


A 350-square-foot prewar co-op, with a bath, hardwood floors, two closets and a kitchen with stainless-steel appliances (but no dishwasher), in an elevator building with a doorman and gym.

14 weeks on the market

$325,000 list price

17% below list price

Costs $840 a month in maintenance

Listing broker Keller Williams

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