Denied bail, IMF chief is ordered held at NYC jail
NEW YORK (AP) — The chief of the International Monetary Fund was spending the night in jail at Rikers Island, a 400-acre penal complex that offers a strikingly different level of comfort than the $3,000-a-night Manhattan hotel suite where authorities say Dominique Strauss-Kahn tried to rape a maid.
Strauss-Kahn was being held on a charge that would normally result in release, but he was denied bail Monday after prosecutors warned the wealthy banker might flee to France and put himself beyond the reach of U.S. law like the filmmaker Roman Polanski.
Strauss-Kahn's weekend arrest rocked the financial world as the IMF grapples with the European debt crisis, and upended French presidential politics. Strauss-Kahn, a member of France's Socialist party, was widely considered the strongest potential challenger next year to President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Making his first appearance on the sex charges, a grim-looking Strauss-Kahn stood slumped before a judge in a dark raincoat and open-collared shirt. The 62-year-old, silver-haired Strauss-Kahn said nothing as a lawyer professed his innocence and strove in vain to get him released on bail.
"This battle has just begun," defense attorney Benjamin Brafman told scores of reporters outside the courthouse, adding that Strauss-Kahn might appeal the bail denial.
Because of his high profile, Strauss-Kahn will be held in protective custody on Rikers Island, away from most detainees, said city Correction Department spokesman Stephen Morello. Unlike most prisoners who share 50-bed barracks, he will have a single-bed cell and will eat all of his meals alone there. He'll have a prison guard escort when he is outside his cell.
Rikers is one of the nation's largest jail complexes, with a daily inmate population of about 14,000 — more than the prison populations of many states. Famous inmates have included rapper Lil' Wayne.
The complex's notable history includes accounts of run-ins between inmates and guards. In one such case last year, a guard was sentenced to six years in prison for ordering inmate beatings as part of a rogue disciplinary system. Prosecutors said he imposed order in a unit at the complex by having teenage inmates beat other teenagers who had stepped out of line. The union that represents jail guards said the prisoners fabricated the allegations.
Also last year, more than a dozen correction officers were injured while quelling fights between inmates awaiting pretrial hearings at a jail there. And in February, the city settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of an inmate who died after a scuffle with guards.
Strauss-Kahn was ordered jailed at least until a court proceeding Friday. He cannot claim diplomatic immunity because he was in New York on personal business and was paying his own way, the IMF said. He could seek that protection only if he were conducting official business, spokesman William Murray said. The agency's executive board met informally Monday for a report on the charges against Strauss-Kahn, the managing director at the international lending agency since 2007.
The French newspaper Le Monde, citing people close to Strauss-Kahn, said he had reserved the suite at the Sofitel hotel for one night for a quick trip to have lunch with his daughter, who is studying in New York.
Strauss-Kahn is accused of attacking a maid who had gone in to clean his penthouse suite Saturday afternoon at a luxury hotel near Times Square. He is charged with attempted rape, sex abuse, a criminal sex act, unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching. The most serious charge carries five to 25 years in prison.
The 32-year-old maid told authorities that she thought the suite was empty but that Strauss-Kahn emerged from the bathroom naked, chased her down a hallway, pulled her into a bedroom and dragged her into a bathroom, police said.
He grabbed her breasts, tried to pull down her pantyhose, grabbed at her crotch and forced her to perform oral sex on him during the encounter at about noon, according to a court complaint. She ultimately broke free, escaped the room and told hotel staffers what had happened, authorities said. She was treated at a hospital for minor injuries.
"The victim provided a very powerful and detailed account of the violent sexual assault," Assistant District Attorney John "Ardie" McConnell said. He added that forensic evidence may support her account. Strauss-Kahn voluntarily submitted to a forensic examination Sunday night.
Brafman said defense lawyers believe the forensic evidence "will not be consistent with a forcible encounter." Defense lawyers wouldn't elaborate, but Brafman said "there are significant issues that were already found" that make it "quite likely that he will be ultimately be exonerated."
Prosecutors asked the judge to hold Strauss-Kahn without bail, noting that he lives in France, is wealthy, has an international job and was arrested on a Paris-bound plane at Kennedy Airport. He had left the Sofitel hotel before police arrived, leaving his cellphone behind, and appeared hurried on surveillance recordings, authorities said.
At one point, Strauss-Kahn called the hotel "in a panic" about the phone, a law enforcement official said Monday.
Hotel security officers hadn't found a phone. But they were instructed by NYPD investigators to set a trap by informing him they had it and asking where they could get it to him, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation had not been completed.
Strauss-Kahn told them he was about to board a flight — unknowingly tipping off authorities to his whereabouts, the official said.
Prosecutors said they couldn't force Strauss-Kahn's return from France if he went there.
"He would be living openly and notoriously in France, just like Roman Polanski," said Chief Assistant District Attorney Daniel Alonso, referring to the film director long sought by California authorities for sentencing in a 1977 child sex case.
Defense lawyers suggested bail be set at $1 million and promised that the IMF managing director would remain in New York City. His lawyers said Strauss-Kahn wasn't trying to elude police Saturday: The IMF head rushed out of the hotel at about 12:30 p.m. to get to a lunch date with a family member, then caught a flight for which he had long had a ticket, they said.
Still, Criminal Court Judge Melissa C. Jackson said the fact that Strauss-Kahn was on a plane when arrested "raises some concerns," and she ordered him jailed.
The decision was one of the most widely watched of Jackson's career, but she's had her share of time in the courtroom limelight, presiding over cases involving rapper Foxy Brown, rocker Courtney Love and actress Rosario Dawson.
Allegations of other, similar attacks by Strauss-Kahn began to emerge Monday. In France, a lawyer for a novelist said the writer is likely to file a criminal complaint accusing him of sexually assaulting her nine years ago. A French lawmaker accused him of attacking other maids in previous stays at the same luxury hotel. And in New York, prosecutors said they are working to verify reports of at least one other case, which they suggested was overseas.
A lawyer for 31-year-old French novelist Tristane Banon said she will probably file a complaint alleging Strauss-Kahn sexually attacked her in 2002. Lawyer David Koubbi told French radio RTL that Banon hadn't pressed her claim earlier because of "pressures" but would do so now because "she knows she'll be taken seriously."
The Associated Press is identifying Banon as an alleged victim of sexual assault because she has gone public with her account.
A French lawmaker from a rival political party also alleged, without offering evidence, that Strauss-Kahn had victimized several maids during past stays at the Sofitel near Times Square.
The hotel issued a statement calling conservative lawmaker Michel Debre's claims "baseless and defamatory." Sofitel management "has had no knowledge of any previous attempted aggressions," the hotel said, adding that it had set up a hotline for workers to report incidents more than a year ago.
McConnell, the assistant district attorney, said in court Monday that New York authorities are working to verify at least one other case of "conduct similar to the conduct alleged." When the judge asked whether the potential other incident occurred in the United States, McConnell said he "believed that was abroad."
Strauss-Kahn's lawyers said they had no immediate response to the allegations emerging from overseas.
In France, defenders of Strauss-Kahn, a former finance minister who had topped the polls as a possible candidate in presidential elections next year, said they suspected he was the victim of a smear campaign.
The 187-nation IMF provides emergency loans to countries in severe distress and tries to maintain global financial stability.
Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Paris, Christopher S. Rugaber in Washington and Tom Hays in New York contributed to this report.