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Prosecutors seek money from Boston Marathon bomber’s prison bank account

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in 2013. The Supreme Court is weighing whether to reimpose his death sentence. (Federal Bureau of Prisons/AP)

Federal Bureau of Prisons officials have allowed the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, to spend about $13,000 on himself from his inmate account while paying only a small fraction of the $103,000 a court ordered him to give his victims, according to a new court filing.

Federal prosecutors asked a judge late Wednesday to order the Bureau of Prisons to turn over the remaining $3,885.06 in Tsarnaev’s prison inmate account, noting that in the six years since his sentencing, he has received more than $21,000, including a $1,400 payment from the federal government as part of coronavirus relief available to all Americans.

The figures detailed in the court filing indicate that Tsarnaev, 28, has spent about $13,000 on himself in the years he has been in federal custody, while sending $2,000 to his siblings and others. He paid $2,202.03 to his victims, the filing said. The filing doesn’t indicate when those payments were made.

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In 2013, Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev placed pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a gunfight with police as the duo tried to escape a manhunt in the Boston suburbs.

Tsarnaev was sentenced to death in 2015 but is appealing that punishment. As part of his sentence, he was ordered to pay a $3,000 special assessment and $101,126,627 in restitution. He is held in a Florence, Colo., prison often called “Supermax,” which is reserved for the most dangerous inmates in the country.

The Washington Post has reported over the past year about the Bureau of Prisons’ account system for inmates, which contains more than $140 million in total deposits. Prisoners may keep as much money as they like in the accounts, and transfer money elsewhere by check or money order.

More than 20 inmates keep six-figure balances in their accounts, while others, including sex abuser and former doctor Larry Nassar, were allowed by the prison agency to spend thousands on themselves while paying victims very little of what they are owed.

Critics of the Bureau of Prisons’ account system say the agency, an arm of the Justice Department, is operating a de facto bank for convicted criminals that partially shields their money from the scrutiny and debt-collection mechanisms in place at most other financial institutions, shortchanging the very victims the criminal justice system is meant to help.

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Tsarnaev’s case is noteworthy for the amount of financial support he receives from people outside his family. Some of his supporters send money to his federal public defender lawyers, who have sent along $11,230 of those payments to his account, according to the court filing.

Others send Tsarnaev money directly, including a person in Indiana whose payments over the years total $2,555, someone in New Jersey who sent him a total of $1,450 and a Maryland resident who sent a total of $950, the court filing states.

Others have sent smaller amounts that added up to nearly $3,500, prosecutors said. The names of the people giving money to Tsarnaev were not included in the filing.

The Post reported in July that Nassar — a doctor who has been convicted of sex crimes and allegedly victimized hundreds of girls and women, including Olympic athletes — had spent more than $10,000 on himself behind bars, while paying $300 to his victims.

A month later, a federal judge ordered Bureau of Prisons officials to turn over the roughly $2,000 in Nassar’s account, so it could be paid to his victims.

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Jason Wojdylo, a retired U.S. Marshals Service official who spent years unsuccessfully trying to persuade the Bureau of Prisons to change its policies to require inmates to pay more of what they owe, said the Tsarnaev case is the latest example of the agency’s failures.

“The victims, their loved ones, the city of Boston and the marathon community at large have reason to be outraged,” he said, noting that Wednesday’s filing comes more than four months after Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco pledged to improve the system “as promptly as possible.”

Wojdylo said Tsarnaev’s Bureau of Prisons account raises fresh questions “as to whether BOP’s culture of complacency is even capable of change.”

Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons officials did not immediately comment.

The court filing came on the same day Justice Department officials announced the retirement of the head of the Bureau of Prisons, but it was unclear whether the two issues were related.

Tsarnaev is also the subject of a larger legal fight over capital punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in October about whether the death sentence Tsarnaev received should be reinstated after an appeals court tossed it out.

For his crimes, Tsarnaev received multiple death sentences. The Biden administration, which generally opposes the death penalty, is arguing that in Tsarnaev’s case, the sentence should be reinstated.