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Tag: Preet Bharara

Eric Starkman: The Unethical Preet Bharara and His Despicable Media Enablers

Eric Starkman is founder and president of STARKMAN, a public relations and crisis communications firm based in Los Angeles.  He was previously a reporter at major newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.

By Eric Starkman
For ticklethewire.com

preet-bharara-time

Growing up in Toronto I had a quintessentially Canadian view about government authority: Only bad people ran afoul of the law.

But my innocence was shattered when I was a young reporter at The Toronto Star and Ontario’s Attorney General leaked me some information about some entrepreneurs who had embarrassed his Administration that I knew to be untrue. I didn’t write the story but other reporters happily picked up the narrative, ultimately giving the government the PR cover to seize the businesses of the entrepreneurs without any due process. I’m still shaken by the abuse of power.

I naively believed that such prosecutorial wrongdoing could never happen in the U.S. My bubble was quickly burst when The Detroit News hired me as a business reporter and assigned me to cover the high profile administrative hearing of Stanford Stoddard, a maverick Michigan banker who the Comptroller of the Currency alleged had misappropriated funds from the bank he founded. In her opening statement, a young ambitious OCC attorney alleged that among Stoddard’s wrongdoings was using bank funds to purchase alcohol. As Stoddard was a devout Mormon the charge was exceptionally damning, so I asked Stoddard’s attorney about the allegation. Turns out the alcohol in question was a bottle of wine for a religious ceremony.

Former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who was lionized in the media as “The Sherriff of Wall Street,” jolted me with another wakeup call about prosecutorial wrongdoing. Spitzer and his minions routinely spread false or misleading information about my former client Dick Grasso after he was forced out of the New York Stock Exchange because of bogus allegations the former chairman and CEO was overpaid. An example of Team Spitzer’s dishonesty was leaking a document that showed Grasso’s son accompanied him on the private jet the NYSE chartered so Grasso could host a reception at Davos, Switzerland. Spitzer’s team neglected to provide the documentation showing that Grasso reimbursed the NYSE for the cost of his son’s trip.

Preet Bharara, who was just fired as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, took Spitzer’s prosecutorial abuse to an even higher level. For a time, Bharara was an even bigger media darling than Spitzer, garnering fawning media coverage for his high-profile cases, including this gusher of a puff piece by William Cohan in Fortune. Bharara loved the media limelight, routinely holding news conferences to trump up publicity for his cases and leaking damaging allegations to obsequious reporters who gladly published them and abetted in the smearing of his targets before they had an opportunity to defend themselves.

As Jesse Eisinger noted last week in Pro Publica, Bharara was no hero. His prosecutorial track record was mixed, as several of his high-profile cases were overturned on appeal. And his practice of arguing his cases in the media earned him the opprobrium of the judge overseeing his case against Sheldon Silver, the former NY Democratic State Assembly speaker, who charged that Bharara’s media blitz “strayed so close to the rules governing his own conduct.”

Even Cohan came to appreciate Bharara’s unethical behavior, publishing this impressive story about the questionable tactics used to pressure former hedge fund manager Todd Newman to settle insider trading charges. Bharara tellingly was too tongue tied to talk to Cohan for a story that was critical of him.

Sadly, the universe of reporters who appreciate the dangers of prosecutorial abuse is limited to a handful of some very experienced reporters.  One of them is New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, who has written critically about Bharara and presumably played a meaningful role in the critical portrayal of U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades in the Showtime series “Billions.” (Sorkin is one of the show’s creators).  The Rhoades character is clearly based on Bharara, replete with the latter’s petulance and media manipulation. The show also admirably is unkind in its portrayal of a reporter and his pursuit of a scoop.

Best-selling author Michael Lewis took up the cause of Sergey Aleynikov, the Goldman Sachs programmer who was convicted and sentenced to prison for stealing computer code, Jim Stewart wrote about the questionable charges leveled against Zachary Warren, and Joe Norcera wrote an admirable column about the shameful prosecution of Charlie Engle.

Diane Brady, among the fairest and most ethical journalists, recently commented that stories based on leaked documents should be held to the same reporting standards as any news story.  That’s an admirable requirement, but regretfully we’ve entered the Brian Stelter media age, where reporters who publish leaked documents and give anonymous people a platform for their political agendas are deemed “investigative journalists.”

The media can’t be counted on to protect against prosecutorial wrongdoing. But with Bharara out of office, the Southern District is momentarily a safer place for innocent people.

 

FBI Investigating Voter Fraud, Financial Mismanagement in The Bronx

U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The FBI is investigating voter fraud and financial mismanagement of politicians in The Bronx, the New Work Post reports.

The probe comes at a time when Albany’s power shifted to Bronx politicians after Sheldon Silver stepped down as speaker of the New York Assembly following his arrest by the FBI.

Replacing him was Carl Heastie, a Bronx political powerhouse.

The target of the probe, however is unclear, but the Post reported that the investigation was prompted, at least partially, by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

“I’m hearing that one document turned over to Bharara shows that some candidates in certain Bronx districts got more votes than the number of voters who went into the booths,” the Post’s John Crudele wrote.

“There is also a question about the use of campaign funds for personal purposes, a source tells me,” wrote Crudele. “Stay tuned. This could get interesting quickly.”

FBI’s Tainted Key Witness Creates Big Problems in Mobster Case for NY U.S. Attorney’s Office

This piece originally appeared in Gang Land News on June 26 and is being reprinted with permission. It’s the most recent story Gang Land News has published about the case since disclosing that prosecutors gave sweet plea deals to two Gambino family gangsters on the eve of trial in January rather than allow their lawyers to question the FBI’s key witness about the reason he agreed to cooperate.The witness was arrested on charges of soliciting sex from a person he believed was a 15-year-old girl, a charge that normally carries a mandatory-minimum penalty of 10 years to life.

U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara/doj photo

By Jerry Capeci
Gang Land News

The office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara quietly announced last month that it was dismissing charges against the last three defendants in the snake-bitten labor racketeering case that the FBI made against Genovese gangster Carmine (Papa) Smurf Franco and 28 others. All told, prosecutors have dropped the charges against 10 of the 29 defendants in the indictment.

Throwing in the towel before trial against more than a third of the defendants in the 16-count indictment wasn’t the way things were supposed to turn out. When the arrests were announced, the case was hailed by Bharara and New York FBI boss George Venizelos as a major blow against the Mafia’s control over the waste hauling industry in New York and New Jersey. Instead, this foray against the mob rivals the losing ways of the luckless Mets.

In a two paragraph court filing, prosecutors told Manhattan Federal Judge P. Kevin Castel they were deferring the prosecution of the owner of a Jersey City garbage company and two truck drivers charged with stealing about 130 tons of cardboard between March and July of 2012. The trio, Thomas Giordano, 43, the owner of Galaxy Carting of New Jersey, Michael Russo, 51, and Louis Dontis, 59, were set for trial next month. The charges are slated to be officially dismissed later this summer.

The three men were tape recorded by FBI informer Charles Hughes in dozens of conversations in which they allegedly discussed truckloads of stolen cardboard, and a surprisingly simple, relatively lucrative mob scam. Drivers snatched the cardboard from sites in Brooklyn, Bayonne and beyond. It was then put up for sale by Giordano at a market price that ranged between $106 and $125 a ton, according to an FBI summary of talks that Hughes recorded from March of 2009 until January 8, 2013 – a week before the indictment was unsealed.

But in an apparent effort to keep their key witness, undercover operative Hughes, off the stand, prosecutors have decided to drop the charges. A major concern is that Hughes would have to admit that he became a government witness only after he was arrested for soliciting sex with a girl he believed was 15 years old.

In January, prosecutors gave super sweet plea deals to Gambino mobster Anthony Bazzini and mob associate Scott Fappiano, who faced 20 years if convicted, rather than subject Hughes to a biting cross-examination about that by their lawyers.

But prosecutors had no leverage to wangle guilty pleas from the alleged cardboard thieves.  “They rejected plea deals of zero-to-six months early on,” said one source.

“There was no way they were going to plead to anything,” said one defense attorney whose client accepted a plea offer before it became known that Hughes was a convicted sex pervert. “My guy got a really nice disposition, but he’s not happy. And there’s one other guy I know who’s upset that he didn’t hold out until the end,” the lawyer added.

Sources say that following his arrest in August, 2008, Hughes, now 44, was detained until March of 2009, when he was released on bail and wired up by the FBI to see if he could deliver on a claim that he had worked in the waste hauling industry in his teens and could make cases for the feds. News that his cooperation stemmed from a sex-solicitation arrest surfaced five months ago.

Law enforcement sources say the primary reason the government decided to give Fappiano and Bazzini — who received a year and a day sentence on June 24 — much better plea offers was a “real fear” that jurors would be so outraged by Hughes’s conduct that they would hold it against the government for making a deal with him, ignore the law and acquit, no matter what.

Whether the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office should have entered a cooperation agreement with Hughes in the first place is a bone of contention for some law enforcers. But that issue is difficult to assess since his case is still under seal as are the specifics of his deal with the feds.

But there is agreement by several law enforcement officials, and virtually every defense lawyer Gang Land spoke to, that the decision by Judge Castel to permit defense lawyers to question Hughes about lies he told both his wife and the “teenager” he thought he was seducing convinced prosecutors to give deals to Bazzini and Fappiano in January.

Prosecutors Bruce Baird and Patrick Egan had tried to limit the cross examination, but when Castel indicated during a pretrial session that he was going to grant defense lawyers Raymond Perini and Lee Ginsberg some leeway in their questioning of Hughes, the prosecutors gave the gangsters a plea offer they couldn’t refuse.

“The mobsters were charged with extortion but it’s really stealing garbage stops and bid-rigging,” said one source. “That’s pretty tame stuff for jurors to deal with compared to having sex with little girls who but for the grace of God could be their daughters or granddaughters. The chance of jury nullification was very real.”

The decision to toss the charges against the alleged cardboard thieves was presumably even easier to make: The total value of the stolen cardboard was about $16,000, an amount not likely to sway jurors versus a sex-scheming witness.

Nor was playing the dozens of tapes Hughes made without having him testify to authenticate them a good option. Some conversations appear to back up the notion that the men knew they were dealing in stolen cardboard. For instance, according to the indictment, on May 29, 2012, Giordano was recorded saying “he did not care where the cardboard came from as long as it went to him.”

But others, like one a few days earlier, according to an FBI summary obtained by Gang Land, appear to tilt the other way. In one such conversation, Dontis is heard telling Hughes that “he doesn’t want to do anything wrong. He’s not a brokester, he’s just a hard working Greek who just wants to make money.”

Even if convicted, the trio could have received non jail terms, or sentences of less than a year behind bars.

Giordano’s attorney, Michael Bachner, the only lawyer who responded to a Gang Land request for comment, said he and his client were pleased by the deferred prosecution decision. “From the get go,” said Bachner, “we have taken the position that Mr. Giordano should not be prosecuted. And while it took longer than we would have wished, we’re gratified with the result.”

Neither Bharara, nor the FBI, would comment about this week’s deferred prosecution, or the embarrassing decision to drop the charges against a third of the defendants in the case. They also declined to discuss the status of Hughes, including whether he is behind bars, or if, as prosecutors indicated last week, he is free on bail, and what type of supervision he has now.

In court papers, prosecutors wrote that Hughes “remains in virtual hiding, fearful for his safety and the safety of his close family members.” His “ability to earn a living and to support his family is essentially non-existent,” they wrote, adding that his “life will never return to the way it was prior to his arrest.”

Prosecutors also wrote that different accounts they gave defense lawyers about how roll-off containers belonging to a Bazzini-connected carting company ended up in a Giordano company storage lot were caused by “miscommunication or misunderstanding” between Hughes and his supervising FBI agents, “rather than a deliberate effort by (Hughes) to mislead the government.”

Gang Land News, which is run by Jerry Capeci, a noted mobster expert, is a subscription site, but well worth it.

5 Gambino Gangsters Plead Guilty to Laundry List of Dirty Deeds

Shoshanna Utchenik
ticklethewire.com

Racketeering, narcotics trafficking, assault, extortion, murder? Just another day-in-the-life of a Gambino mobster.

Five Gambino wise guys pled guilty this week to a range of nefarious charges, announced Preet Bharara, NY U.S Attorney in Manhattan.

Working as “soldiers” and “associates” of the Gambino crime family, Vincenzo Frogiero, Todd Labarca, John Brancaccio, Christopher Reynolds, and Sean Dunn earned millions for the Gambinos by trafficking hundreds of kilos of cocaine and marijuana, and thousands of ecstasy and vicodin pills through operations based in Queens over the past 30 years.

Labarca also pled guilty to conspiracy to murder fellow gangster Martin Bosshart in a 2002 turf war, after Bosshart made a power grab in the Gambino’s marijuana import operation. Bosshart was found shot point blank in the back of the head for his ambitions.

The 5 will face similar fates in their July sentencing as a couple dozen other Gambino members and associates snared by the FBI recently as part of a nationwide takedown of organized crime.

According to Bharara, “The laundry list of illegal conduct to which LaBarca and these four other defendants pled serves as a reminder of the scourge that is organized crime and that our efforts to root it out will continue unabated.”

To read more click here.

 

NY U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara Among Time’s Most 100 Influential People in the World

U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara/doj photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Included in a list of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World are folks like President Obama, comedian Steve Colbert, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Bharara is in obviously good company. And in the media’s endless search for Superman figures and heroes,  and good vs. evil, Bharara’s name has surfaced before.

He’s gotten his fair share of good press over time. He’s been called the “The Sheriff of Wall Street”, and in fact, he graced the cover of Time magazine in February with the headline: “This Man is Busting Wall St.”

The Time shoutout is just the latest bit of good press.

Time notes, in a short piece written by law professor and former assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh, that Bharara’s Manhattan team “has battled terrorism, convicting the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad; crippled international criminal networks run by Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, Jamaican drug trafficker Christopher Coke and Colombian rebal group FARC; and in March secured a halfbillion-dollar forfeiture from computer contractor SAIC in the biggest fraud ever against New York City. Those are good cases well prosecuted.

Time also notes that he has the ability to “see the next battleground”, a reference to the indictments of the Anonymous and LulzSec hacker networks.

“What sets him above is the patience honed by principle,” the article states. “Preet resisted the temptation of a sloppy kill and instead waited for the facts. His 58-0 record for insider-trading cases bodes ill for the bankers whom his office has charged with reckless lending practices or inflating mortgage values.”

NY U.S. Atty. Bharara Telling Friends He Could Earn Up to $6 Million in Private Sector

By Charlie Gasparino
Fox Business News

All of the good publicity flowing from the crackdown on insider trading has one of the nation’s top law enforcement officials looking at what he might do in the future, and he’s seeing a lot of green.

Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District, is telling friends that if he should leave his job today, he could earn as much as $6 million in the private sector, according to people with direct knowledge of these conversations. Bharara’s private statements come as speculation grows in Washington that the politically savvy prosecutor might also replace his boss, US Attorney General Eric Holder, if President Obama wins re-election.

A spokeswoman for Bharara wouldn’t deny the conversations about Bharara’s private sector ambitions — or the possibility that he might replace Holder.

To read more click here.

Nine More Charged in Scheme to Defraud Holocaust Victims Fund of Tens of Millions of Dollars

FBI's Janet Fedarcyk/fbi file photo

By Danny Fenster
ticklethewire.com

The massive scandal to rip off a charitable Holocaust fund designed to benefit victims who were persecuted by the Nazis, continued to unravel in N.Y.  on Wednesday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan announced the arrest of eight more people for being part of  a plot to defraud the fund out of  $57.3 million. A ninth person charged is expected to surrender voluntarily.

Five of those arrested are former employees of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which administered the charitable programs. The five were charged with knowingly approving nearly 5,000 fraudulent applications, resulting in the payout to unqualified applicants, in exchange for kickbacks. Since prosecution began in the case, a total of 30 people have been charged in connection with the scheme.

The latest folks charged in the case include: Henry Gordin; Genrikh Kolontyrskiy; Viktor Levin; Ella Voskresenskiy; Zlata Blavatnik; Pyotr Blavatnik; Yevgeniya Abramovich; Asya Galindo; and Lana Kagan, the ninth who is expected to surrender voluntarily.

“These defendants had a hand in fabricating, filing, or processing nearly 5,000 fraudulent claims on behalf of non-qualifying applicants,” Janice K. Fedarcyk, head of the N.Y. FBI said in a statement. Claims Conference funds have been drained of $57 million meant for Holocaust victims, and a large portion of the diverted money went into the pockets of corrupt insiders. These were people hired to give who conspired to take.”

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara added:  “As I said when the initial charges in this case were announced, my office, working with our partners at the FBI, would not stop until we brought to justice those who are alleged to have stolen more than $57 million from the Claims Conference, thereby diverting money intended for survivors of the Holocaust. With today’s charges, we have now identified 30 people who allegedly exploited a fund that is as symbolically important as it is necessary to its beneficiaries. We again thank the Claims Conference for their outstanding ongoing assistance in identifying the participants in this scheme.”

 Read press release

 

Genovese Crime Family Mobster Extradited from Italy to NY

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Mobsters have a reputation for enjoying free things: TVs, Rolex watches, meals, computers. You name it.

Still, it’s fair to assume, Emilio Fusco, a made man in the New York Genovese Crime Family, was none to happy when he got a free plane ride back to the U.S. from Italy — compliments of the federal government.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of Manhattan announced Monday that Fusco was extradited from Italy to face racketeering and other charges in connection with the Genovese family crimes. Authorities said Fusco arrived in New York Friday afternoon, and was arraigned in Manhattan federal court earlier Monday.

Fusco was charged with co-defendants Felix Tranghese, Ty Geas, Fotios Geas and Arthur Nigro in in a superseding indictment unsealed in July 2010.

Tranghese pled guilty in January 2011, and Nigro, Fotios, Fotios Geas and Ty Geas were were convicted in April of racketeering charges, multiple murder charges, and multiple extortion charges.

“Emilio Fusco will finally face the justice he deserves—something that he never afforded his alleged victims,” Bharara said.

Authorities said that in 2003,  Fusco, prior to being sentenced for an earlier racketeering conviction, got hold of a court document showing that Genovese family capo Adolfo Bruno had spoken with an FBI agent about Fusco’s status in the Genovese family.

After that, Arthur Nigro, who was the acting boss of the Genovese family, gave the order to murder Bruno. Fusco and others conspired to carry out the murder, and Bruno was killed on Nov. 23, 2003.

Less than three weeks before Bruno’s murder, authorities said Fusco, a fellow Genovese family soldier and two associates, murdered Gary Westerman to help their position in the family and to prevent Westerman from snitching to the feds about crimes committed by members and associates of the Genovese family, authorities said.

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