NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Turkish lawyer representing wealthy gold trader Reza Zarrab allegedly helped pay bribes to a guard at a New York City jail where Zarrab was being held on charges that he conspired to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions, according to court papers and another lawyer for Zarrab.
The bribe allegations were detailed in a criminal complaint following the Thursday morning arrest of the guard, Victor Casado, 35, of the Bronx, who had worked at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan since 2012.
Benjamin Brafman, a U.S. lawyer for Zarrab, confirmed in an email that the unidentified lawyer was Turkish and had been assisting Zarrab in jail, and that “none of his U.S. attorneys were involved or even aware” of their transaction.
Zarrab, 34, a dual national of Iran and Turkey, was a star government witness in the recent Manhattan trial of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a former deputy general manager at Turkey’s state-controlled Halkbank.
Atilla, 47, was convicted in January of helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions. He is facing an April 11 sentencing, and prosecutors are seeking a prison term of around 20 years.
Federal prosecutors accused Casado of taking between $45,000 and $50,000 in bribes from “Inmate-1,” typically through the unidentified lawyer.
In exchange, Casado would smuggle contraband, including alcohol and cellphones, as well as food, Vitamin C and over-the-counter pain medication into the jail for Inmate-1, prosecutors said.
While Inmate-1 was not identified by name, court papers said he has pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran and money laundering, matching Zarrab’s plea, and to bribery in connection with his dealings with Casado.
Inmate-1 gave prosecutors information in the hope of obtaining leniency at sentencing, the papers showed.
The cases against Zarrab and Atilla have strained diplomatic ties between the United States and Turkey, and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has called it a politically motivated attack on his government.
Casado was charged with five counts, including bribery and fraud, in a complaint also detailing suspicious payments from a second inmate. He could face up to 20 years in prison on the most serious charges.
Bail was set at $200,000, and a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew with electronic monitoring was imposed at an afternoon hearing.
Casado’s lawyer, John Diaz, declined to confirm after the hearing if Zarrab was Inmate-1.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York