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Tag: prosecutors

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.

 

Prosecutors Drop Case Against ex-DEA Agent Accused of Posing As FBI Agent

dea-badgeBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A former DEA agent who was accused of posing as an FBI agent in a fraud scheme no longer faces charges.

The Daily Breeze reports that federal prosecutors dropped their case against David Garcia Herrera, 70, this week.

The decision comes after U.S. District Court Judge Jesus Bernal said he would inform jurors that the U.S. Attorney’s Office had used bad evidence in the case.

Herrera and his alleged conspirator, Jerome Arthur Whittington, are accused of convincing a victim that they would help him recover money he lost in investment schemes if he paid about $290,000.

In another scheme, Herrera and Whittington are accused of convincing another victim to pay them about $8,500 to help with his wife’s immigration case.

Other Stories of Interest

Man Convicted in Murder Plot of Judge, Prosecutors And FBI Agents

courtroomBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A former Laguna Beach man who tried to arrange for the kidnapping and murder of a judge, two prosecutors and a pair of FBI agents was convicted Tuesday.

John Arthur Walthall, 60, was convicted of soliciting the murders after a judge earlier sentenced him to 14 years in prison for fraud, MyNewsLA.com reports.

Prosecutors said he wanted someone to kill U.S District Judge Andrew Guilford, two prosecutors and a pair of FBI agents who helped in the case.

Walthall is accused of spilling his plans to inmates and an undercover FBI agent.

FBI Unsure Whether It Can Unlock iPhone in Arkansas Murder Case

Apple-iphoneBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

An Arkansas prosecutor suggested this week that FBI agents would help hack into a locked iPhone and iPod of two teenagers accused of killing a couple.

The FBI responded that it’s unsure it can crack the devices, backing away from the prosecutor’s statements, ABC News reports.

While the FBI said it’s not ruling out the possibility, the bureau said it hasn’t learned enough about the devices to know definitively whether it can help.

At issue is whether the FBI can use the technique it employed to access a locked iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.

“At the time of the request, no information was provided regarding the device models or operating systems, so FBI Little Rock was not able to state if they would be able to provide assistance. The FBI does not currently have possession of the devices,” the agency wrote. “The FBI’s handling of this request is not related to the San Bernardino matter.”

The FBI has not divulged how it opened the San Bernardino phone.

FBI to Help Arkansas Prosecutors Unlock iPhone, iPad in Murder Case

Apple-iphoneBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The FBI is helping prosecutors open an iPhone 6 and an iPod linked to a murder case in Arkansas after successfully hacking an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters.

The FBI’s Little Rock field office has agreed to help gain access to the locked devices, which belong to suspects in the slayings of Robert and Patricia Cordell, the Los Angeles Times reports. 

It’s not yet clear how the FBI plans to open the phone or if its plans to use the same method it used to unlock Syed Rizwan Farook’s phone.

The Arkansas case involves four suspects, ages 14 to 18, who have been charged in the killings.

“The iPod had just come into our possession a couple of weeks ago,” Cody Hiland, prosecuting attorney for Arkansas’ 20th Judicial District, said Wednesday. “Obviously when we heard that [the FBI] had been able to crack that phone we wanted to at least ask and see if they wanted to help.”

Justice Department to Prioritize Prosecution of Wall Street Criminals

wall-streetBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The Justice Department has pledged to prioritize prosecution of Wall Street criminals.

The Boston Globe reports that the DOJ established new rules in an effort to hold individual employees and their companies accountable.

The rules were issued in a memo to federal prosecutors in an attempt to also pressure corporations to cooperate when their executives are accused of wrongdoing.

“Corporations can only commit crimes through flesh-and-blood people,” Sally Q. Yates, the deputy attorney general and the author of the memo, said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s only fair that the people who are responsible for committing those crimes be held accountable. The public needs to have confidence that there is one system of justice and it applies equally regardless of whether that crime occurs on a street corner or in a boardroom.”

Prosecutors: FBI Had Legal Right to Track New York Assemblyman by Cell Phone Tower

Assemblyman William Scarborough

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Federal prosecutors said FBI agents did not violate the law by tracking a New York assemblyman using cell phone tower data, The Times-Union reports.

Assemblyman William Scarborough had no reasonable expectation of privacy because he was using a cell tower, which prosecutors argued is essentially a business record.

The Queens Democrat was arrested in October on 11 federal charges related to fraudulent travel vouchers from 2009 to 2012.

Tracking his whereabouts was key to the investigation, prosecutors said.

“The defendant could not have a constitutionally cognizable privacy interest in business records that he did not make and has never seen or kept, and that contain information he has never known,” the motion reads.

Prosecutors Defend FBI’s Ruse to Send Agents into Hotel Suites As Internet Repairmen

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Prosecutors defended the FBI’s controversial decision shut off the Internet connection to three luxury Las Vegas suites in a ruse to send in undercover agents to “fix” the problems, the Associated Press reports.

U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Bogden and two other government lawyers filed a lengthy court filing defending the practice.

The response comes after the defense asked a judge to dismiss the evidence gathered in the illegal gambling case against eight suspects.

“Law enforcement has long been permitted to obtain consent by posing as a confederate, business associate, or service provider. In fact, the government uses ruses every day in its undercover operations,” the prosecutors wrote in defense of the FBI operation.

The prosecutors said the ruse was legal because it still gave the defendants a choice of letting in the agents.

“Disruption of the (high speed Internet) did not — in any legitimate sense — require immediate attention,” prosecutors wrote.