May 21, 2020 / 7:33 PM / 12 days ago

Ex-Refco CEO Bennett wins compassionate release from prison, to be deported to U.K.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The former chief executive of Refco Inc, one of the world’s largest commodities brokerages before its 2005 bankruptcy, has been granted compassionate release from a U.S. prison, where he had been serving a 16-year term for his role in the collapse.

FILE PHOTO: Former Refco Chief Executive Phillip Bennett leaves Manhattan federal court after pleading guilty to fraud in New York February 15, 2008. Bennett pleaded guilty on Friday to fraud and other charges stemming from the 2005 collapse of the futures and commodities broker. REUTERS/Keith Bedford/File Photo

Phillip Bennett, 71, will be placed into the custody of U.S. immigration officials on Thursday, after the British citizen demonstrated “extraordinary and compelling reasons” for early release, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote.

The Manhattan judge said Bennett is expected to be deported “as soon as practicable” to Britain.

Bennett had said his age, high blood pressure and high cholesterol increased the risk he might contract COVID-19 in prison, justifying his release from the Moshannon Valley Correctional Facility in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania.

U.S. prosecutors opposed the request, calling Bennett “the principal architect of an elaborate, massive, brazen fraud.”

Bennett had not been eligible for release until April 2022. His lawyers were not immediately available for comment.

Refco filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors in October 2005, two months after going public and a week after revealing that Bennett had concealed $430 million of debt.

Bennett later pleaded guilty to 20 counts including fraud and money laundering, for causing an estimated $2.4 billion of investor losses.

He told Buchwald at his July 2008 sentencing he intended no harm but “made an unacceptable and appalling error in judgment.”

In ordering Bennett’s release, Buchwald called him a “model prisoner,” and said his age put him at “far greater risk of death” from COVID-19 though his health issues were not unusual.

She also said the case was unique because U.S. immigration authorities had, with Bennett’s consent, planned before the coronavirus pandemic to deport him upon his release, making him ineligible for home confinement in the United States.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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