New York Times
Nick Casale, a former police detective, served as a monitor to ensure that Bernard L. Madoff abided by strict bail conditions.
By Alan Feuer
(Article Edited) IF you had been looking closely during the criminal case of Bernard L. Madoff, you might have spotted a portly man with a gourmand’s jowls and a walrus mustache hovering just behind the defendant’s elbow on his various trips to court. Though dressed like a lawyer, he was not one; nor a prosecutor, a personal assistant, a limousine driver or a family friend.
His name, in fact, is Nick Casale and he is a retired New York Police Department detective who was serving as a monitor in the latest iteration of that age-old institution known as bail. Mr. Casale, in short, was a state-sanctioned nanny, escorting Mr. Madoff back and forth from his penthouse to the courthouse to ensure that the world’s most famous fraudster abided by the strict conditions that had gotten him out of jail.
“It was an almost military matter,” Mr. Casale observed proudly, sitting in his office, high over Madison Avenue, where Mr. Madoff’s bulletproof vest was, months later, still fetched up against the wall. Not only did the high-profile and high-paying baby-sitting gig rely on the assistance of several former cronies from the Police Department; it required the deployment of a chase car, a digital voice recorder, a broadband wireless router, several metal door bars and a high-resolution, vandal-resistant Nuvico day/night camera the one with the plastic dome and manual zoom lens.
It was, in other words, a drastic distance from the seemingly quaint alternatives of a) incarceration or b) release in advance of standing trial.
Bail, of course, is nominally the province of the government, but as with certain toll roads and various crucial functions of the military, it has lately seen a wave of privatization. Over the past two years, a handful of the hottest criminal cases involving the famous and the wealthy have led to the hiring of specialized Manhattan firms like Mr. Casale’s. Such firms, which also do private investigations and other security work, are stocked with retired city officers and former federal agents who tend to make the shift quite naturally from, say, protecting snitches at the Motel 6 in Scranton to watching over Wall Street cheats returned to their ample apartments.
But the new arrangements are complicated by several questions, including: Whom are the monitors really serving the judge who devised the terms of the release or the defendant footing the bill?
And then there are the sociological implications of letting the rich drop wads of cash on the sensitive scales of justice while criminal suspects of modest means languish behind bars.
“There’s no doubt about it: privilege has its privilege,” said Mr. Casale, a broad, bearish man with a happy capitalist pluck. “
Bail, as it is known today in America, derives from the Habeas Corpus Act passed by the English Parliament in 1679, which states, in part: “A Magistrate shall discharge prisoners from their Imprisonment taking their Recognizance, with one or more Surety or Sureties, in any Sum according to the Magistrate’s discretion.”
More restrictive still was the case of Mahender and Varsha Sabhnani, a wealthy couple from Muttontown, Long Island, who were charged in 2007 with enslaving and torturing two Indonesian domestic workers at their home. While awaiting trial in Brooklyn, the Sabhnanis were released on an unheard-of condition: that private guards be placed in the house. (Both Sabhnanis were convicted and sentenced to prison; their maids were awarded nearly $1 million in back wages.)
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, when considering the Sabhnani case, immediately recognized the implications of the groundbreaking arrangement, but more or less dismissed the problem in a footnote. “The government has not argued and, therefore, we have no occasion to consider,” the judges wrote, “whether it would be ‘contrary to principles of detention and release on bail’ to allow wealthy defendants ‘to buy their way out by constructing a private jail.’”