NEW YORK – The U.S. Bureau of Prisons is reconsidering its plan to send a Russian arms dealer known as the Merchant of Death to a high-security prison in Colorado.
Viktor Bout was relieved to learn he wouldn't be transferred as planned from New York to the so-called Supermax prison in Florence, Colo., on Wednesday, his attorney Albert Y. Dayan said.
Dayan, who represented Bout when he was convicted of conspiracy relating to his support of a Colombian terrorist organization, said he was notified on Tuesday that the Bureau of Prisons was delaying the transfer of Bout from a federal lockup in Brooklyn to another institution. And prosecutors on Tuesday notified the judge in a letter that the Bureau of Prisons was reevaluating where to send Bout, who was sentenced last month to 25 years in prison.
Dayan complained about the Supermax designation to the trial judge, federal prosecutors, the Bureau of Prisons and others after learning about it last week.
He spoke optimistically about the prospect of Bout, who's in his mid-40s, serving his time closer to New York in a prison where he can be in the general population, saying the judge, Bureau of Prisons and federal prosecutors were addressing "these issues with empathy."
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered prior to sentencing that prison authorities move Bout from solitary confinement to the general population, calling his prison conditions "harsh" and "brutal."
Bout, the inspiration for an arms dealer character played by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 film "Lord of War," had been held in isolated conditions since he was extradited in late 2010 from Thailand to face trial after his arrest there two years earlier. At the time, Dayan said he worried that Bout would end up in Supermax, where he said he believed inmates were "buried alive."
Dayan said Tuesday he hoped Bout, a vegetarian and classical music fan who speaks six languages, could be kept "healthy, mentally stable and physically fit" in prison.
"Hopefully, one day soon he'll return back to his country a healthy man," he said.
Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said it was bureau policy not to divulge information about the designation or future institution assignment of any inmate.
The Merchant of Death moniker was attached to Bout by a high-ranking minister at Britain's Foreign Office, who had drawn attention to his 1990s notoriety for running a fleet of aging Soviet-era cargo planes to conflict-ridden hotspots in Africa. The nickname was included in the U.S. government's indictment of Bout, and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara referenced it when he announced Bout's extradition in late 2010, saying: "The so-called Merchant of Death is now a federal inmate."
Associated Press writer Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this story.