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BROOKLIN — A man serving a seven-year federal prison sentence for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Brooklin Boat Yard is seeking early release from prison, citing concerns about contracting COVID-19, according to federal court documents.
Steven Nygren, 53, of Salem, Mass., filed a request that he be released from prison to serve his remaining time confined to his home or have the sentence reduced “because of prison conditions, which are conducive to the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” according to a copy of the request.
Nygren, the former chief financial officer for the Brooklin Boat Yard, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Bangor in 2017 to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the business. According to court records, from June 2014 through August 2015, Nygren used his position as financial officer at the Brooklin business to forge 63 checks and embezzle over $732,000.
Nygren sent his request, in the form of a 10-page “Emergency Motion for Modification of Sentence,” to the United States District Court of Maine on May 11.
U.S. District Court Judge John A. Woodcock had not acted on Nygren’s early release request before press time, but he did appoint Bangor Attorney Stephen C. Smith of Lipman & Katz, Attorneys at Law to represent Nygren.
“Mr. Nygren is at very high risk of exposure to the virus,” Smith said on Tuesday. “He has been an exemplary prisoner and we hope the court acts on his petition favorably. His family is very concerned about his health.”
The convicted embezzler was ordered on May 24, 2018, to serve 95 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release. His release date at this point is estimated to be Oct. 2, 2025, according to court records. Nygren is being housed at the Federal Medical Center in Devens, Mass.
Nygren said he suffers from hypertension and liver failure, which combined with the virus could prove fatal. Social distancing in prison is impossible, according to Nygren. Inmates have been supplied with face masks, but they are supposed to wear each one for 10 days in a row before being issued a new one, he said.
“They are now setting up a hospital tent outside,” he said.
On April 4, Nygren had asked the prison warden for early release, which the warden denied on April 25, according to Nygren.
In his motion, Nygren cited the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning the use of “cruel and unusual punishment” as reason he should be released.
“…Incarcerating [inmates] in prisons in crowded conditions that expose them to infectious diseases violates the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment,” Nygren wrote. “The prison is located in Fort Devens, Mass, a state which the President of the United States has declared a disaster area.”
Nygren said a spread of the virus at the prison is “imminent.”.
As of May 14, ten inmates and two staff people have been infected with the virus, Nygren wrote in his motion. One person had died.
A check on Tuesday, June 2, of the Bureau of Prisons COVID-19 website showed that 50 inmates at the Ayers, Mass., facility had been infected with the virus along with four staff people. Two of those 50 inmates had recovered and one staff person had recovered. No more deaths have been reported at the facility.
Smith wrote in his motion to the court that as quick as COVID-19 is spreading across the country, it is spreading through the federal prison system even faster: “Currently the cumulative rate of rise in COVID-19 cases is nearly twice that of the national cumulative rate of rise.”
“COVID-19 has not even reached its peak in most regions of the country,” Smith stated. “Yet the constellation of realities that already exist in the federal prison system is grave: federal inmates and staff are dying from COVID-19; inmates and staff are testing positive for COVID-19 at facilities throughout the country at an exponentially increasing rate; and, according to reports from BOP’s own employees, facilities have neither the manpower nor the medical equipment to contain the spread of the virus, treat infected individuals or properly quarantine individuals.”
Nygren told the court that he has a sales job lined up that he could do from his Salem residence and which would allow him to start making restitution payments. The restitution order currently stands at $821,566.27, according to court records.
“Mr. Nygren has a significant amount of time remaining to serve but he did not have a life sentence resulting in death, which is what is likely to occur if he is not released to home confinement where he could shelter in place safely,” Nygren stated in his motion.
In Smith’s footnotes to Nygren’s motion, he stated Nygren suffers from “several high-risk factors related to his age, medical condition and weight. He qualifies for compassionate release and should so be released.”
The courts have allowed others early release because of ill health and COVID-19 concerns.
According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, a federal judge has allowed William Bischoff, 79, of Maine to be released to home confinement. Bischoff was serving his four-year prison sentence at Fort Devens, where Nygren is housed. Bischoff had run a $5.6-million investment fraud scheme with 36 victims, including three who lost their homes, according to the paper.
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