NEW YORK (WIVB) – It has now been seven months since former Congressman Chris Collins was sentenced to serve 26 months in a federal prison in Pensacola, Fla. as a result of his guilty plea on inside trading charges. Yet because of COVID-19, he still hasn’t had to report there. The date has been pushed back several times, most frequently because of concerns regarding the coronavirus.
Collins’ currently is scheduled to report by October 13th.
As of Tuesday, three staff members at FPC Pensacola have active cases of coronavirus, according to Bureau of Prisons statistics. No inmates have active cases in the facility.
Late last week, prosecutors and Collins’ defense team sent a joint letter to a federal judge detailing coronavirus precautions at the facility. Pre-pandemic, they wrote, there were more than 600 inmates in the prison’s general population. As of last week, there were only about 310 inmates there.
“Courts are being very good about keeping the prison population low to prevent the transmission of disease,” said Cheryl Meyers Buth, a local attorney who has been providing News 4 analysis on the Collins case. “Also, they don’t want to put any individual prisoner at risk.”
When an inmate reports to FPC Pensacola, the attorneys told the judge, they are immediately tested for the coronavirus. Even if they test negative, they are placed in a quarantine unit for 14 days. Prisoners in the quarantine unit do not have access to email or phones for social calls. If, at the end of the 14-day period, the inmate is asymptomatic and tests negative again for the virus, they are released into the general population.
“Heightened cleaning standards are in place, and inmates in the general population are issued multiple face masks and encouraged to wear them in common areas,” the attorneys wrote. “There is currently no lockdown in place, and inmates have access to the library, recreation, and programming.”
Meyers Buth said it is was not uncommon for surrender dates to be pushed back for federal inmates even before the coronavirus pandemic.
“Certainly since COVID, all bets are off,” she said. “Things have been delayed. There’s been a lot more confusion. It’s just the product of the times right now.
“(Collins) is not getting preferential treatment at all.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story inaccurately asserted that Meyers Buth claimed it was uncommon for surrender dates to be pushed back before the pandemic.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who started working at WIVB in 2017. A Lancaster native, he came to Buffalo after working at stations in Rochester and Watertown. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.