Michael Cohen begins jail sentence at minimum-security prison dubbed ‘Jewish heaven’

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Michael Cohen once said he would “take a bullet” for Donald Trump.

With a menu that includes matzo ball soup and gefilte fish, as well as a full-time rabbi and a chance at the occasional visit home, the United States prison where president Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer will spend the next three years is unique in the federal system.

Key points:

  • Cohen was convicted for arranging hush payments, financial crimes and lying to Congress
  • Mr Trump denied he had extramarital affairs or directed Cohen to pay off the women
  • Inmates work around two hours a day and have access to a kosher food menu

Michael Cohen checked into the Federal Correctional Institute in Otisville, New York, on Monday to serve his three-year sentence for arranging hush payments to two women who said they had sexual encounters with Mr Trump, financial crimes and lying to Congress.

The 52-year-old will be housed in dorm-like accommodations at the facility’s minimum-security camp, which prison consultants said had become a destination for Jewish inmates.

“He’s going to what I like to refer to as ‘Jewish heaven’,” said Larry Levine, founder of Wall Street Prison Consultants, who served a 10-year prison sentence that ended in 2007 for racketeering and other crimes.

Cohen, who once said he would “take a bullet” for Mr Trump, was sentenced in December for orchestrating payments to pornographic film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal shortly before the 2016 US presidential election. 

Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels

Cohen said Mr Trump directed the payments. Mr Trump, who has denied the affairs, said he never directed Cohen to do anything illegal.

Cohen is married to Laura Shusterman, 49. They have two adult children, Samantha and Jake.

Celebrity on the inside

Billy McFarland rides a jetski in the Bahamas while organising the Fyre Festival.

Cohen will not be the only high-profile inmate at Otisville, according to USA Today.

Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino poses in prison garb with Jersey Shore co-stars.

Michael Sorrentino, also known as “The Situation” of reality TV show Jersey Shore fame, is behind bars at the facility.

He was convicted of tax fraud and was sentenced to eight months in prison.

Cohen will also be sharing prison space with Billy McFarland, who orchestrated the disastrous Fyre Festival

He was sentenced to six years in prison for defrauding investors of $37 million.

Cohen’s celebrity could make his experience different from a typical inmate’s, said Justin Paperny, a former inmate whose consulting firm, White Collar Advice, has clients in the camp.

“There will certainly be some prisoners who will be enamoured by his status, being the former personal lawyer to the President of the United States,” Mr Paperny said.

However, Mr Paperny said Cohen was unlikely to face retaliation from Trump fans angered by his decision to cooperate against the President, because inmates in minimum-security prisons are serving relatively short sentences and want to keep them that way.

‘A great place for white-collar Jewish guys’

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Cohen gives damning evidence against TrumpABC NEWS

Jack Donson, a former manager at the facility who now runs a prison consulting firm, said the camp was “a great place for white-collar Jewish guys”.

“The availability for kosher food is much greater,” said Michael Frantz, another former inmate, who founded Jail Time Consulting.

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The commissary menu on Otisville’s website advertises matzo ball soup, gefilte fish and rugelach, a pastry, alongside Doritos tortilla chips and Diet Sprite soda.

The camp is not fenced in and inmates’ movements throughout the day are not as tightly controlled as they are in more secure facilities.

Inmates are given jobs, which Levine described as “busy work” like cleaning or emptying garbage.

However, in practice, work hours at Otisville are short, sometimes one or two a day. 

For much of the day, Cohen “can pretty much do what he wants,” Mr Frantz said.

The camp offers weights and other exercise equipment, a basketball court, a tennis area and a baseball field, and bocce ball, according to its handbook.

Groundhog day

A black car drives into a driveway amid green tress with a sign out front reading 'Federal Correctional Institution'.

Despite its reputation as one of the country’s more comfortable prisons, the consultants stressed that Otisville was still prison.

The guards, Mr Frantz said, “intimidate you a lot”. 

“They speak down to you a lot. It’s not a pleasant atmosphere,” he said. 

“[Bureau of Prisons] staff are trained and expected to conduct themselves professionally, including the humane and courteous treatment of the men and women in our custody,” the Bureau of Prisons said in a statement.

Levine compared the prison experience to the film Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s character lives the same day over and over.

“It’s really a boring existence,” he said.

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