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Federal Courts Order Seizure of Canteen Funds for Restitution Owed by High-Profile Prisoners

by David M. Reutter

In two recent cases, federal courts have granted orders to seize funds from prisoners after sizable balances in their canteen accounts came to prosecutors’ attention.

In federal court for the Western District of Michigan on August 19, 2021, Judge Janet T. Neff granted prosecutors’ motion to seize funds for victim restitution from the prison canteen account of Larry Nassar, the former physician for the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team convicted in December 2017 of serially abusing his underage patients.

As part of his sentence, Nassar was ordered to pay $57,488.52 in restitution to five victims plus $5,000 for a special assessment fee, pursuant to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015. Prosecutors said that $12,825 had been deposited in total to Nassar’s prison account, including stimulus checks for $600 and $1,400 issued in January and March 2021. Yet Nassar had paid only $300 towards his restitution order.

Judge Neff’s order found that Nassar’s inmate trust account is not “property that is exempt from collection in a criminal case,” and she ordered the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to turn over up to $62,488.52 from the account to pay towards his restitution order. At the time of the order, Nassar had $2,041 remaining in his account. See: United States v. Nassar, USDC (W.D. Mich.), Case No. 1:16-cr-00242.

Then on January 5, 2022, Massachusetts federal district court judge George O’Toole ordered BOP to seize $21,071 from Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s prison canteen account. As part of his sentencing, Tsarnaev was ordered to pay $101 million in restitution. At the time of the court’s January 2022 order, Tsarnaev had $3,885.06 in his prison account, and he had paid $2,202.03 towards restitution order. He has spent about $13,000 on himself while in federal custody at the BOP’s Colorado Supermax facility, and he sent $2,000 to siblings and others. See: United States v. Tsarnaev, USDC (D. Mass.), Case No. 1:13-cr-10200.

Tsarnaev also received a $1,400 stimulus payment in June 2021, which did not set well with one U.S. Senator. “The Boston Marathon Bomber should never have received a COVID stimulus check, yet every Senate Democrat voted to give him one,” bristled Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who in the same tweet blamed a “historic crime wave” on “an under-incarceration problem.”

BOP said in a statement that it is committed to taking steps to assure prisoners meet their financial obligations. 


Additional sources: Business Insider, CNN, Daily Mail, MSN


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Related legal cases

United States v. Nassar

United States v. Tsarnaev