From $3,000 hotel suite to small jail cell
NEW YORK—In a dramatic fall from grace, International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn bedded down at New York’s notorious Rikers Island jail on Monday night after he was charged with trying to rape a hotel maid.
Separated from other inmates for his own safety, Strauss-Kahn was put in a bare 3.5-by-4-meter cell and given basic bedding, a drinking cup, soap, shampoo and toothpaste as other allegations emerged that he had engaged in a pattern of sexual assaults dating to at least 2002.
Unlike most prisoners, Strauss-Kahn will eat all of his meals alone.
Three nights earlier, Strauss-Kahn slept in a luxurious $3,000-a-day suite at Sofitel hotel near Times Square complete with conference room, living room, marble bathroom and a bedroom with a king-sized bed and feather-and-down duvet.
It was in that same Sofitel suite that he allegedly attacked a chambermaid on Saturday afternoon. Since then, his sparkling career has crumbled.
Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers say he is innocent but he could still lose his job as head of the IMF, which oversees the world economy, and his hopes of running in France’s presidential election next April are in tatters.
In France, a lawyer for 31-year-old French novelist Tristane Banon said she would 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.”
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.
The hotel called lawmaker Michel Debre’s claims “baseless and defamatory.”
Strauss-Kahn, 62, was transferred to Rikers Island after a New York judge denied his request for bail.
Wary of possible attacks on the globe-trotting IMF chief, officials put him in the smallest of the 10 jails in the vast Rikers complex and separated him from the other inmates, who share 50-bed barracks.
A spokesperson for New York’s Department of Correction said Strauss-Kahn would be kept from other inmates even when allowed out of his cell to stretch his legs, exercise or watch television.
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.
Also last year, more than a dozen correction officers were injured while quelling fights between inmates.
The IMF chief looked drained, haggard and unshaven in his court appearance on Monday as prosecutors detailed his alleged attack against the maid.
“He sexually assaulted her and attempted to forcibly rape her. When he was unsuccessful, he forced her to perform oral sex on him,” Assistant District Attorney John McConnell told the court.
Defense lawyers suggested bail be set at $1 million. Strauss-Kahn faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
Judge Melissa Jackson was persuaded by prosecutors that Strauss-Kahn might try to flee to France, so she ordered him put behind bars and set a new hearing for Friday. Police had pulled Strauss-Kahn off an Air France jet on Saturday just minutes before it was to leave for Paris.
Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers are expected to appeal the judge’s bail decision. Bail would allow him to live in New York with his wife, prominent French television personality Anne Sinclair, while awaiting trial.
Without bail, he could face a long wait in a miserable jail cell, an ordeal that experts say could push him toward a plea bargain deal.
The charismatic, multilingual and witty Strauss-Kahn won wide praise for his leadership of the IMF during the 2007-2009 global financial meltdown as well as the euro zone’s current debt crisis, and his arrest has thrown the agency into turmoil.
The IMF board has so far held off on deciding whether or not to remove Strauss-Kahn from his job.
The board also faces embarrassing questions about why it let Strauss-Kahn off with just a reprimand in 2008 after he was found to be having an extra-marital affair with a subordinate, a blond Hungarian-born economist who is married.
The woman was 50 at the time and had worked at the IMF since 1986. The IMF would ultimately clear him of having abused the power of his office.
Persistent rumors inside the IMF that he often made unwanted sexual advances to women have long dogged his tenure there.
<strong>‘Battle has just begun’</strong>
France’s election campaign has also been turned upside down. Strauss-Kahn had been widely tipped to win the Socialist Party’s presidential nomination and early opinion polls showed him ahead of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Unless the criminal case against him quickly collapses and he is proven innocent, Strauss-Kahn has no hope of running for president.
Strauss-Kahn’s lead attorney Ben Brafman was defiant, saying forensic evidence taken by police from Strauss-Kahn “will not be consistent with a forcible encounter.”
“We believe we will prove … that Mr. Strauss is innocent of these charges,” Brafman told reporters. “This battle has just begun.”
Brafman successfully defended pop star Michael Jackson from molestation charges in 2005 and legal experts say his team will almost certainly try to dig up information on the maid in the Strauss-Kahn case. <strong><em>Reports from Reuters, AP and New York Times News Service</strong></em>