I always like reading DOJ’s various expressions of their investigative and prosecutorial priorities–because they usually show a disinterest in prosecuting banksters, a thorough waste of resources on entrapping young Muslims, and an ongoing fondness for Anna Chapman.
Lanny Breuer’s choice of DOJ lawyers to recognize yesterday was, in some ways, an improvement over the trend. I’m happy to see prosecutors rewarded for taking down the “Lost Boy” website. Rather than fixating on Anna Chapman and entrapping young Muslims, Breuer recognized prosecutors who entrapped older Muslims who attempted to smuggle someone they believed to be a Taliban member into the US. And Breuer even celebrated the rare prosecution of a bankster, Lee Bentley Farkas.
And while Breuer’s multiple awards to people seemingly making it easier to shut down the InterToobz in the guise of IP violations concerns me, it’s this bit that I found disgusting.
The Assistant Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service was presented to Kirby Heller and Deborah Watson of the Criminal Division’s Appellate Section for their exceptional work in the successful appeal of sanctions imposed upon federal prosecutors in the case of Dr. Ali Shaygan.
Effectively, Lanny Breuer is rewarding two appellate section lawyers for winning an 11th Circuit Court decision overturning sanctions imposed on DOJ for gross prosecutorial misconduct. Breuer’s priorities, it seems, include ensuring that DOJ pays no price when it abuses its prosecutorial power.
The case goes back to February 2008, when Ali Shaygan was indicted for distributing controlled substances outside the scope of his medical practice; one charge tied that distribution to the death of one of Shaygan’s patients. Shaygan ended up hiring a defense team that included one attorney who had had a run-in with the prosecutors in his case. In addition, the lead prosecutor, Sean Paul Cronin, was admittedly buddies with the lead DEA Agent, Chris Wells. After Shaygan’s lawyers attempted (ultimately, successfully) to suppress a DEA interview with Shaygan on Miranda grounds, Cronin threatened the team.
AUSA Cronin warned David Markus, Shaygan’s lead attorney, that pursuing the suppression motion would result in a “seismic shift” in the case because “his agent,” Chris Wells, did not lie.
Nine months later, during the trial, one of the prosecution’s witnesses alluded in cross-examination that he had tapes of conversations–failed attempts to bribe Shaygan’s lawyer–at home.
During the cross-examination of Clendening on February 19, 2009, Shaygan’s counsel, Markus, asked Clendening if he recalled a telephone conversation in which Clendening told Markus that he would have to pay him for his testimony, and Clendening responded, “No. I got it on a recording at my house.”
This revelation led to exposure of the government’s collateral, failed investigation of Markus for witness tampering, as well as a significant number of discovery violations. In short, it became clear the government tried, unsuccessfully, to catch Markus bribing witnesses for favorable testimony and then hid all evidence they had tried. The prosecutor in the case was not properly firewalled form that investigation and even personally claimed to give authorization to tape the conversations. And in the days before the trial, the prosecutor checked in on the witness tampering investigation, apparently hoping to force Markus to withdraw from the case just as it went to trial. In the end, Shaygan was acquitted of all 141 charges against him.
After the trial, Miami District Court Judge Alan Gold held a sanctions hearing against the government for its gross misconduct. He held the government in violation of the Hyde Amendment. He had them pay all reasonable costs after a superseding indictment he judged was filed as part of the “seismic shift in strategy.” And he publicly reprimanded the prosecutors involved in the case.
Now, the government admitted that it committed significant errors.
The United States acknowledges that it initiated a collateral investigation into witness tampering and authorized two witnesses, Carlos Vento and Trinity Clendening, to tape their discussions with members of the defense team in violation of United States Attorney’s Office policy; that, although there were efforts made to erect a “taint wall,” the wall was imperfect and was breached by the trial prosecutors, AUSA Sean Paul Cronin and Andrea Hoffman, at least in part, because the case agent, DEA Special Agent Christopher Wells, was initially on both sides of the wall; and that, because the United States violated its discovery obligations by not disclosing to the defense “(a) that witnesses Vento and Clendening were cooperating with the government by recording their conversations with members of the defense team, and (b) Vento’s and Clendening’s recorded statements at the time of their trial testimony.” Finally, the United States “acknowledges and regrets” that, “in complying with the Court’s pre-trial order to produce all DEA-6 reports for in camera inspection on February 12, 2009 (Court Ex. 6), the government failed to provide the Court with the two DEA-6 reports regarding the collateral investigation, specifically Agent Wells’ December 12, 2008 report (Court Ex. 2) and Agent Brown’s January 16, 2009 report (Court Ex. 3).”
After the sanctions hearing, the government agreed to pay some legal fees associated with their misconduct. They just objected, and appealed, to the public reprimand and the requirement they pay for all fees after the superseding indictment.
But the appeals court not only threw out the entire financial sanction, it also vacated the public reprimands of the lawyers.