The decade's most triggering comedy
On August 1, 2018, Martin Gottesfeld was found guilty of conspiracy to intentionally damage a protected computer in violation of 18 U.S. Code § 371, and intentional damage to protected computers in violation of 18 U.S. Code § 1030 (a)(5)(A).
Gottesfeld is the “guardian hacktivist” who allegedly initiated a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) campaign on Boston Children’s Hospital in protest of the hospital’s alleged medical kidnapping of Justina Pelletier.
I’ve been covering the Gottesfeld case for approximately two years now. You can read my previous coverage of his case (and Justina’s) below:
In November 2016, while in custody and awaiting trial, Martin Gottesfeld was remanded to the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in New York City. While in the MCC, Gottesfeld was allegedly placed in the Segregated Housing Unit (SHU, sometimes called “special housing,” depending on the prison) for 81 days.
Following his conviction in 2018, Gottesfeld was transferred through several prisons, eventually landing in FCI Terre Haute’s Communications Management Unit (CMU) in Terre Haute, Indiana.
There are only two known Communications Management Units in the United States – one in Terre Haute, and the other in Marion, Illinois. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), these special prison units reportedly house “dangerous terrorists and other high-risk inmates,” the vast majority of whom are Muslim.
The inmates in these secretive CMUs are closely monitored, and have restricted access to computers. Their communication with the outside world, even family, is severely limited, and sometimes nonexistent, reports CCR.
As of publication, Martin Gottesfeld’s wife Dana hasn’t spoken with her husband for more than eight months. The only means by which Dana and others can glimpse Gottesfeld’s activities is via court filings in his ongoing lawsuit with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP).
In November 2018, while Martin Gottesfeld was in the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Plymouth, Massachusetts, he filed a lawsuit against acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) Hugh J. Hurwitz, acting Deputy Director of the U.S. Marshall Service David Anderson, MCC Warden Esker Tatum, and MCC Medical Director Anthony Bussonich, alleging mistreatment while in the Metropolitan Correctional Center.
Gottesfeld claims in the lawsuit that he “never received written notice of the reason(s) for his placement in the SHU as required by 28 CFR 541.25 [a federal regulation],” and that he “was never offered the opportunity to attend any administrative detention hearing.” Gottesfeld even contends that “no such hearing(s) were ever conducted.”
According to Gottesfeld, who at that point had begun a hunger strike, the conditions in the SHU were objectionable, with “an uncontrolled rodent and insect infestation,” and poor ventilation.
The temperature in the SHU regularly approached that of the outdoors during the winter due to insufficient insulation in the exterior walls. Rather than fix the building or leave the heat at a sufficient level, the eventual amelioration effort of the MCC administration weeks after the problem’s annual emergence in late-2016 was to hand out thermal underwear, which did not cover the face, feet, or hands.
Gottesfeld also alleges that Medical Director Anthony Bussonich threatened to force-feed him during his “constitutionally-protected” hunger strike.
In a January 2017 letter to then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, Inspector General Michael Horowitz, and Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) Thomas R. Kane, Gottesfeld wrote that “roaches are found in the food, and I have personally observed insect eggs as well.”
Gottesfeld added that certain cells “have hit the 50-degree range, while others are much colder,” and alleged that the warden turned up the heat to sufficient levels on inspection days before turning it back down.
There are also water leaks all over at least the 9th and 10th floors, with visible signs of rust and corrosion. Not only does this potentially impact the structural stability of the building, but the pools of standing water [resulting from the leaks] are a breeding ground for infection.
Since the lawsuit was filed in November 2018, the defense, represented by Assistant United States Attorney Alexander J. Hogan, has moved to have it dismissed on multiple grounds.
Gottesfeld has been able to effectively communicate with the outside world via court filings in the ongoing lawsuit. In a series of articles, Gottesfeld and former inmate Francis Schaefer Cox described alleged heinous conditions inside FCI Terre Haute’s Communications Management Unit. The pair even described an alleged CMU inmate homicide, which reportedly took place in November of 2018.
In a court document filed on August 12, 2019, Gottesfeld wrote about the alleged conditions inside the CMU and the CMU’s special housing unit (SHU), reportedly nicknamed “the burrito cooker” because a steam pipe allegedly runs underneath the floor that emits so much heat, one can reportedly cook food on the floor:
Multiple other survivors credibly and uniformly detail inhumane conditions during their extended stays in the FCI Terre Haute CMU’s “special housing unit,” including extreme heat, lack of ventilation, insect infestation, sleep deprivation due to constant loud noises, and contaminated drinking water that is known to cause convulsive vomiting and dangerously dehydrating diarrhea.
Without a single exception, these survivors all also described being deprived of their legal work, writing implements, paper, and postage stamps, thus leaving them unable to reach the courts despite sometimes facing imminent filing deadlines.
Those in the CMUs, moreover, cannot confidentially contact the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The OIG is the internal watchdog for the DOJ, so the inability of CMU inmates to send reports to the OIG without the FBOP pre-screening them presents serious issues and conflicts of interest. Indeed, federal inmates elsewhere can send private electronic messages to the OIG instantaneously, but not those in the CMUs.
A former inmate at the FCI Terre Haute CMU appears to corroborate Gottesfeld’s assertions about the conditions inside the facility, calling the cells hot and incredibly dirty. This former inmate also claims that the water does not run clear, has a terrible smell, and leaves corrosive marks in the toilets and sinks.
I reached out to FCI Terre Haute for comment on the allegations regarding the water, and received the following reply from Public Information Officer (PIO) Jenna Epplin:
Every staff member and inmate at FCC Terre Haute is provided with potable, non-toxic, drinking water. All drinking water at FCC Terre Haute is tested monthly, at a minimum, and is compliant with the State of Indiana’s Drinking Water Permit, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The water is tested by a third party agency and the results are sent directly to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for review.
Asked to comment on CMU inmates’ ability to speak with the Office of the Inspector General, PIO Epplin stated: “Inmates are afforded the opportunity to contact the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) directly, if they so chose. Inmates can add the phone number to their approved phone list or write a letter directly to OIG.”
I further asked Epplin: “Can inmates contact the OIG anonymously and without being monitored?” As of publication, Epplin has not replied. Additionally, the OIG has yet to return my request for comment.
When asked about Gottesfeld’s alleged placement in the SHU, as well as the claims of “insect infestation,” Epplin stated: “We do not discuss conditions of confinement for safety and security reasons.”
According to Gottesfeld, there was a radical Islamic-inspired murder that took place in the FCI Terre Haute CMU in November 2018. The alleged victim’s name was Robert David Neal.
Writing alongside Gottesfeld in the court document, Francis Schaeffer Cox reports that 68-year-old Neal’s alleged attacker stabbed Neal, then attempted to decapitate Neal with a wire. Following his murder of Robert Neal, the alleged attacker proceeded to stab another inmate approximately 12 times. The inmate reportedly survived.
There is little information available to the public about the alleged murder. The only news outlet to report on it was the Tribune-Star, which wrote in part:
An investigation continues into Saturday’s death of an inmate at the federal prison in Terre Haute. The manner of death of Robert David Neal, 68, was a homicide, Vigo County Coroner Susan Amos said Wednesday. She declined to release further information about his death due to the ongoing investigation.
When asked about the investigation of the alleged murder of Robert David Neal, PIO Epplin stated: “The investigation into the death of inmate Robert David Neal is being handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
The FBOP Office of Public Affairs declined to comment on the case, and the FBI didn’t provide me with any new information.
Fast-forward to December 2019.
In a recent court filing, Gottesfeld claims that he filed a “motion for sanctions” against Hogan. Separately, on December 6, Gottesfeld asked for a “true copy” of his “order of commitment.”
It was after these two filings that Gottesfeld was allegedly placed in the Communications Management Unit SHU.
According to D.C. Code 16-1905: “A person committed or detained, or a person in his behalf, may demand a true copy of the warrant of commitment or detainer. An officer or other person detaining a person, who refuses or neglects to deliver to him or to a person in his behalf a true copy of the warrant of commitment or detainer, if one exists, within 6 hours after the demand, shall forfeit to the party so detained the sum of $500.”
Gottesfeld contends in the filing that the only order of commitment he ever received was “missing the required seal of the court, the signature of the clerk, and the signature of a U.S. Marshal.” He also states that in his request for the order of commitment, he closely mirrored the language in the relevant code in order to “avoid … ambiguities.”
However, according to Gottesfeld’s filing, one Rebekka Eisele filed an incident report claiming that he had attempted to “extort” some 73 “individuals, agencies, and entities” by demanding a copy of his order of commitment under the law.
Gottesfeld doesn’t believe that Eisele actually penned the report herself, given the language used, as well as what he perceives to be an idiosyncrasy between her in-person behavior and what is written in the document.
In contrast to Ms. Eisele’s actual demeanor, whoever wrote the incident report claimed, “I feel threatened by inmate Gottesfeld’s demands and I believe he is trying to extort me… Inmate Gottesfeld is attempting to intimidate and compel me… by threat of financial demise.” Of course, demanding a “statutorily-authorized sum” with citation to a specific, applicable statute, such as D.C. Code § 16-1905, cannot be “extor[tion]”.
Gottesfeld claims that while Eislele has nothing to gain from him being placed in the SHU, Hogan and his clients do.
“With me in the SHU, [Hogan’s] opponent is significantly hamstrung in contesting whatever he may file,” writes Gottesfeld, “including motions for extensions, and a motion to withdraw or otherwise contest his client’s admissions.”
Gottesfeld also contends that he has “no access whatsoever” to a typewriter or a desk while in the Communications Management Unit SHU, and restricted access to a legal library.
I served upon AUSA Hogan a motion for sanctions … the merits of which I cannot yet bring before The Court due to the twenty-one-day safe-harbor provision of Fed.R.Civ.P.11(c). Fearful of retaliation from AUSA Hogan, the defendants in the case, and their agents here at FCI Terre Haute, I mailed a copy of the motion to a licensed attorney in Brooklyn for safekeeping and filing by my next friend in the case of interference here at the FCI.
[The attorney to whom Gottesfeld mailed his motion has come forward, and revealed their copy of the document.]
In the filing, Gottesfeld writes:
On Monday evening, December 9th, 2019 – after AUSA Hogan was served the motion, but before I could file it with The Court pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(c) – agents of AUSA Hogan and the defendants in the case placed me in the SHU inside the FCI Terre Haute CMU.
Two days after allegedly being placed in the SHU, Gottesfeld claims that one Captain Bragan of the FBOP said the following to him: “You know why you’re here, right?”
“I take Captain [Bragan’s] meaning to signify that the defendants in the case and AUSA Hogan want me to know that they are displeased with my recent motion practice, particularly the motion for sanctions,” Gottesfeld writes.
Gottesfeld states in his filing that while in the SHU at FCI Terre Haute’s Communications Management Unit, the only water to which he has access is from the sink. He writes that the water is “toxic” and appears corrosive of the metal basin. He further states that the only time he is able to drink is during the three times a week he is allowed to shower, and that a CMU medical professional allegedly had to administer fluids intravenously at one point.
Although the secretive CMU isn’t forthcoming with details, an individual with a second-hand knowledge of the situation at the facility told me that the water is indeed potable, and that Gottesfeld’s claims cannot be true.
At this point, it is critical to note that the veracity of Gottesfeld’s claims pertaining to the conditions in the Communications Management Unit cannot be independently verified.
This is due, in part, to the cloak of secrecy surrounding the CMU. Additionally, it’s highly unlikely that those heading an institution where abuses have been alleged to have taken place would readily admit that such abuses were taking place under their supervision. The same applies to employees of said institution.
I have reached out to multiple former and current employees of FCI Terre Haute in order to corroborate the conditions alleged by Gottesfeld. Several employees (current and retired) have rebuffed my requests for comment. I have also twice reached out to AUSA Hogan for comment on the ongoing litigation between his clients and Gottesfeld. As of publication, he has not replied.
Martin Gottesfeld has now filed his first appeal to have his case re-examined. Wife Dana and the Gottesfeld family are attempting to raise $50,000 to retain a new attorney for the appeal, even starting a GoFundMe.
For more information, you can check out the official FreeMartyG website.
Editor’s Note: An error has been corrected. A previous version of this article used the name “Captain Brogan,” which has now been replaced with “Bragan.”