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  • Rich Klein






Samuel Sabatino, an 83-year-old serving a five-year sentence at Woodbourne Correctional Facility for a series of burglaries by entering apartments at luxury residential buildings in Manhattan, has filed a habeas corpus petition in State Supreme Court/Sullivan County.

He is believed to be the oldest prisoner in the medium security prison being held there and is at least the second Woodbourne inmate to file a habeas petition in recent days. Inmate Frank Harris, who turns 63 this week, filed a similar suit on December 14.

The Sabatino suit - filed Saturday against Lynn Lilley, superintendent of Woodbourne as well as Acting State Corrections Commissioner Anthony Annucci - alleges that during the 15 months housed there that his health has deteriorated due to "Woodbourne's failure to provide Mr. Sabatino with adequate medical treatment. "

In a series of stories over the past few days, The SullivanTimes reported exclusively that at least three corrections officers at Woodbourne have tested positive while the number of inmates who have tested positive has gone as high as 70 - all recorded during December. As of December 19, the Corrections Department reports 2,506 staff, 2,368 inmates and 162 parolees have tested positive across its system with 1,893 in all recovered and out of isolation.

As of 3 pm Friday, Woodbourne reports 75 confirmed Covid-19 cases of 600 inmates who have been tested with five results pending. That represents a 12.5 positivity rate. Eight inmates have recovered and one inmate has died. In a statement to The SullivanTimes Saturday morning regarding the spike in cases during December, the Corrections Department said that The Department "has also deployed rapid testing for staff. "

Woodbourne Correctional recorded zero Covid cases from March through November. The capacity of the prison is 849; as of March, there were 783 inmates. So far, Massachusetts is the only state in the nation that is placing inmates near top of the list to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

According to the lawsuit, which includes detailed medical records, Sabatino has been hospitalized twice while in custody of Woodbourne - first at Garnet Health and later, for an extended period, at Albany Medical Center.

The suit alleges that he should be released immediately into home confinement because his confinement "violates his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 5 of the New York State Constitution."

The suit alleges that Woodbourne staff is not enforcing social distancing, particularly when inmates are brought to the mess hall, where inmates are also not able to sit six feet apart.

The suit further noted that Sabatino has been incarcerated at Woodbourne since February 2020 for several non-violent burglaries committed in the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

"These offenses did not involve any violence, threats, or the carrying of a weapon," according to the petition. Sabatino on January 2, 2020 pleaded guilty to burglary and a number of related charges. He was sentenced to a minimum of four years, three months, and 10 days in prison, with a maximum sentence of five years.

Sabatino, known as "The Holiday Bandit" raised a family in Westchester County but was living in Miami when he committed the crimes. Media reports state that he drove up to New York to start the spree.

His daughter, Samantha, testified in an affidavit that's part of the suit: "In July 2020, after my father was released from the hospital and sent back to Woodbourne, the Head Nurse at Woodbourne, Miriam Weig, told me, in sum and substance: “We aren’t equipped to house your father here; if he so much as bumps his head he will have a fatal brain bleed given his condition and the medication he is currently on.”

The SullivanTimes late Saturday reached out to the attorney who submitted the petition and will seek comment as well on Sunday from the New York State Department of Corrections & Supervision.

The law firm Dechert is representing Sabatino. The lead attorney is Pat Andriola, who in 2018 received The Legal Aid Society’s Pro Bono Publico Award for his work on behalf of indigent criminal defendants challenging the constitutionality of New York’s cash bail statute.

As for the suit filed by Harris against Acting Woodbourne Superintendent David Howard and Annucci, it alleges that because Woodbourne transfers prisoners every day into the facility from other prisons, that it poses an additional risk since they are not required to quarantine for a period of time as per the Centers for Disease Control. The Harris suit also alleges that "up until very recently, well over 90 percent of the corrections officers did not wear masks" but that more officers began wearing masks after memos were sent out at the end of October.

A memo from Howard as part of the suit and that's dated November 3 revealed that all inmates had no been tested prior to November 9, 2020, which may explain why there were zero cases for so long. Another memo, dated November 3, 2020 introduced a new policy of social distancing in the Housing Unit's Recreation Units for the first time since the pandemic began.


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