MIAMI: Federal prosecutors in New York have admitted telling an outright lie to the legal team of a criminal accused while trying to downplay their mismanagement of evidence in the botched trial of an accused businessman for violating US sanctions against Iran.
The embarrassing revelations about what many consider to be the United States’ premier criminal investigation bureau were contained in dozens of private text messages, unsealed transcripts and correspondence on Monday, at the behest of prosecutors, at the behest of the ‘Associated Press.
The release of the files follows a ruling last week in which U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan urged the Justice Department to open an internal investigation into possible misconduct by prosecutors in the Terrorism Unit and of International Narcotics from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. .
Although Judge Nathan found no evidence that prosecutors intentionally withheld evidence from lawyers representing Iranian banker Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, she said they had deliberately attempted to obscure the truth and attempted to bury a key document that could have helped the defense.
The errors were serious enough that even after securing a conviction, prosecutors dropped all charges against Sadr.
The unsealed documents on Monday provide a detailed look at how the case against Sadr began to unfold in a turbulent few hours last March, as the trial was nearing completion.
One Friday night, a bank case surfaced that the chief prosecutor, US Assistant Prosecutor Jane Kim, wanted to present as evidence. But she realized that she had not yet shared it with Sadrs’ lawyers, a potential violation of rules intended to ensure a fair trial.
Kim initially suggested handing him over to the defense immediately. But a colleague, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Lake, advised them to wait until tomorrow and bury her in other documents.
The trick didn’t work. Sadrs’ attorneys identified the document as new within an hour. They complained to prosecutors, saying a letter from Commerzbank to the US Treasury Department’s office responsible for enforcing the sanctions would have helped their defense.
Prosecutors, believing the document to have no exculpatory value to the defense, then made up an excuse, telling lawyers they believed the file had already been produced.
By the end of that Sunday night, Judge Nathan had given prosecutors an hour to explain himself.
Unit supervisors, Emil Bove and Shawn Crowley, got involved. In an SMS exchange, Bove admitted that the initial excuse trial lawyers gave Sadrs’ lawyers was an outright lie.
Crowley, realizing the seriousness of her subordinates ‘mistake and anticipating a stern reprimand, confides in Bove that instead of looking at the prosecutors’ final conclusions, she was going to spend the rest of the night cleaning my office.
Ugh. These poor guys. It’s going to be a bloodbath, she wrote in a moment of frustration early Monday before appearing in court.
Bove agrees and acknowledges that the test team have been doing some pretty aggressive things here over the past few days.
Yes, we lied in that letter, Crowley replies.
Amid back and forth with his team over the evidence disclosures, Bove explained how prosecutors were going to crush the accused and made an obscene comment about defense attorney Brian Heberlig.
The revelations reveal the underside of a failed lawsuit that should never have been brought, Heberlig, a partner of Steptoe & Johnson, told the AP.
Crowley, who has since entered private practice at Kaplan, Hecker & Fink in New York City, did not respond to a request for comment. Bove did not respond to an email request for comment.
Stephen Gillers, professor of ethics at New York University’s law school, said the conduct of prosecutors in the case, as described by the judge, was “alarming.”
If this can happen in what many lawyers consider to be the nation’s premier prosecutor’s office, where can it not? Gillers said. The behavior here is what one would expect from an overly aggressive lawyer representing a private party. But prosecutors have a duty to do justice above any desire to win.
A spokesperson for the Southern District of New York declined to comment, but pointed to earlier comments by acting U.S. lawyer Audrey Strauss detailing actions her office has taken to address the court’s concerns.
In December, Strauss said her office had adopted policy changes, expanded training and improved the use of technology to mitigate the risk of miscommunication and facilitate better oversight.
This office upholds the highest ethical standards, Strauss wrote in court. Even conscientious and hardworking prosecutors and officers can make mistakes. When such issues arise, the Court should expect our AUSAs to disclose them promptly and work diligently to resolve them, and for the Bureau to do its part to identify and address the root causes of the errors.
Bove, who still co-heads the Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit, is responsible for overseeing high-profile cases, including the prosecution of Venezuelan President Nicols Maduro and his key allies on drug charges and the investigation into Cesar Sayoc, a supporter of Donald Trump who admitted to sending 16 homemade bombs to prominent Democrats and CNN in 2018.
Further misconduct emerged after the trial when prosecutors admitted to obtaining documents from hundreds of FBI searches for evidence compiled through search warrants in a separate investigation authorized by New York State. These warrants limited searches to evidence of state crimes only, not federal violations. If this fact had been disclosed prior to trial, the evidence might have been prohibited from use against Sadr.
Dick Gregorie, a retired assistant U.S. lawyer in Miami, has said any misrepresentation in court is a serious offense and should be dealt with accordingly.
These are the kinds of things that get you fired, said Gregorie, who was himself a supervisor and indicted early in his career on Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega. When you are a court officer, you had better be absolutely certain that what you are saying is correct and that you are not playing games.
PA editor Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman
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