Peru’s Ex-Leader Plays Virus Card to Get Out of U.S. Jail

By Joel Rosenblatt and John Quigley

• Other inmates are making similar pleas citing pandemic risk
• Alejandro Toledo faces extradition to Peru for corruption case

For the former president of Peru, there may be a silver lining in the coronavirus.

Alejandro Toledo convinced a U.S. judge Thursday that it’s too risky for him to remain in jail in California while he awaits extradition to Peru to face corruption charges.

His get-out-of-jail card comes as other inmates across the U.S. -- from an accused killer being held at a Brooklyn jail to high-profile convicted criminals like President Donald Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen and celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti -- are pleading with judges to release them from facilities their lawyers say are breeding grounds for the virus pandemic. In some cases, the response has been: You’re safer in jail than outside.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco said he’s convinced that Toledo, 74, is at risk of serious illness or death if he remains in custody. Toledo is wanted by Peru on charges that he received as much as $30 million in bribes from Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht S/A.

“The risk that this vulnerable person will contract Covid-19 while in jail is a special circumstance that warrants bail,” Chhabria wrote. “Release under the current circumstances also serves the United States’ treaty obligation to Peru, which -– if there is probable cause to believe Toledo committed the alleged crimes -– is to deliver him to Peru alive.”

The area around San Francisco, where Toledo has been incarcerated, is one of the hot spots in the U.S. for the spread of the virus. So is Peru, where confirmed cases jumped to 243 Thursday from 145 Wednesday and the government announced the first death from the virus, while the country is in a lockdown.

Under the judge’s order, Toledo must stay at home and can leave only for medical appointments, attorney visits or court appearances, once regular practices resume at the San Francisco courthouse. Among other conditions, he must wear a GPS device so his movements can be tracked.

Toledo’s public defender, Graham Archer, referred questions to his supervisor, Steven Kalar. Kalar didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. Marshals arrested Toledo on an extradition warrant on July 16, with $40,000 in cash in a suitcase.

— With assistance by Robert Burnson
(Updates with conditions of release in seventh paragraph.)