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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Sending Manafort to Rikers marks one of several unique plot twists 

Paul Manafort at the Alexandria Detention Center in

Paul Manafort at the Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia. Credit: Alexandria Sheriff's Office via Getty Images

The latest journey for former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort began in March when he was sentenced to 7½ years in federal prison for money-related crimes.

Now the 70-year-old Manafort is reported to be heading to the Rikers Island jail complex between Queens and the Bronx to be held away from other inmates while awaiting state trial on fraud charges.

Politically, this move symbolizes the deep and unique alienation between elected law-enforcement officials in the state and an elected president in the White House who may pardon Manafort, once known as an international operator.

If successful, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance's local prosecution of Manafort on mortgage fraud and other state felonies could ensure Manafort does time, since a Trump pardon wouldn't cover state crimes.

For most of those who churn through Rikers, neither presidential options nor international intrigue grace the agenda. There are more than 7,700 inmates housed in its 10 facilities, a number that has been declining. Most are awaiting trial.

Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2017 said he plans to close what is called the world's largest penal colony in favor of smaller and more manageable jails, given Rikers' history of violence and abuse both among inmates and between inmates and correction officers.

Of course, de Blasio is more frequently in the news these days for an extreme-longshot, zero-traction presidential campaign and exchanges of disses with Trump.

On Monday, for example, he and London Mayor Sadiq Khan exchanged praise for each other after Trump while in London called them both “dumb” and “incompetent.”

This too brings a unique political show.

In an opinion piece for Fox News on Tuesday, lawyer Alan Dershowitz, a commentator on many things Trump, criticized Manafort's planned incarceration on Rikers.

"I know Rikers well, having spent time there visiting numerous defendants accused of murder and other violent crimes. It is a terrible place that no one should ever be sent to," Dershowitz said. "Manafort is being treated differently and more harshly because of his past connections to President Trump and the fear that Trump will exercise his constitutional authority to pardon Manafort."

Even at Rikers, however, Manafort should be better off than if he'd been imprisoned by any of the foreign authoritarians he once represented — Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, or President Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, or ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Also Tuesday, NBC reported that Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) wrote in a letter to the Justice Department last year that a former Manafort associate and Yanukovych loyalist, Dmytro Firtash, had served as a "direct agent of the Kremlin."

Wicker expressed concern that Firtash used the proceeds of "corruption" to delay his extradition to Chicago, where he has been under federal indictment since 2014.

Worth an estimated $3 billion, Firtash made money in the gas and chemical industry. He's fought extradition from Vienna, having been accused in the U.S. of masterminding an international titanium mining racket.

Firtash said two years ago of his dealings with Manafort in Ukraine: “He worked in that field for years and was very successful, and very smart. I think he had a strong understanding of this business.”

How his acumen might help Manafort in his current confines is anyone's guess.

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