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Convicted Riverhead drug dealer denied release from jail over COVID-19 fears

Saying there is “no compelling reason” to release a Riverhead man who recently pleaded guilty to federal drug and racketeering charges over concerns he might be particularly vulnerable if he contracts COVID-19, a federal judge denied him bail Thursday.

During a teleconference hearing, Judge Joanna Seybert said Terrill Latney’s prior criminal history and the fact that he has already pleaded guilty to a crime that could lead to life in prison were factors in denying his release.

The hearing lasted about 30 minutes Thursday as Mr. Latney’s attorney, Neil Checkman of New York City, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Maffei outlined for the judge their respective positions concerning the alleged Bloods gang member’s temporary release as he awaits sentencing. Mr. Checkman said his client is 460 pounds and has high blood pressure, which put him at great risk from the virus.

“He’s not a flight risk at all,” Mr. Checkman argued, noting that his client has never traveled away from the Riverhead area. “What he is is a physically impaired and very frightened man.”

Mr. Maffei countered that Mr. Latney is under quarantine in a section of Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn with no confirmed cases, has exhibited no symptoms and is at no more risk than if he were released to his mother’s house on Lewis Street.

He called the suggestion that Mr. Latney could be released and not be a flight risk or return to a career of criminal activity both “ludicrous” and “crazy.” He also said Mr. Latney’s health issues relate to his own “self-imposed obesity,” a comment the judge took exception with.

“That’s rather harsh,” Judge Seybert remarked.

Mr. Latney has the option of appealing the judge’s decision.

Mr. Latney pleaded guilty in February to racketeering, including conspiring to distribute narcotics and participating in the murder of Thomas Lacolla of Riverhead, officials said. On Nov. 17, 2015, Mr. Latney drove three Bloods members to Old Quogue Road in Riverside where they fired at least 39 shots into a vehicle parked outside a home they erroneously believed was occupied by the rival gang member.

Prosecutors said only one of the more than 1,700 inmates at the jail where Mr. Latney is currently being housed has tested positive for COVID-19. They also said there is no medical evidence to suggest he suffers from high blood pressure.

Mr. Checkman said the data on positive tests is skewed from a lack of testing by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.