Feds drop Quinoy case

Federal prosecutors have decided against a retrial for Jose Quinoy, the Sleepy Hollow police detective who was cleared last month by a jury on two of three charges against him.

Quinoy, 37, was accused of violating the rights of two men in two incidents in late 2006. He was also accused of tampering with a witness in the case, fellow Sleepy Hollow Officer Michael Hayes, who wore a wire for the feds.

Quinoy was cleared of violating the rights of Luis Vilches in December 2006. In that incident, prosecutors said Quinoy illegally used a stun gun on Vilches after he was handcuffed. Vilches had shown up with a tree saw at police headquarters earlier that day threatening to cut Quinoy up over alleged comments Quinoy made about his daughter months earlier. Quinoy was also cleared of tampering with Hayes. Federal prosecutors said he tried to influence Hayes’ grand jury testimony.

The jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquittal on another civil rights charge. In that incident, Quinoy was accused of punching and kicking gomez after he was already handcuffed following a vicious street brawl outside police headquarters on Oct. 17, 2006. The fight stemmed from Gomez’s belief that Quinoy was dating his 22-year-old daughter. The married Quinoy and Gomez’s daughter Haydee both denied there was a romantic relationship.

The case took a bizarre twist on the eve of trial in June when it was discovered that evidence in the case was missing. A disc with recordings made by Hayes turned up blank. After pre-trial hearings, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas said the lead FBI agent in the case, Catherine Pena, had destroyed the disc and then lied about it on the stand.

Feds give up on Gotti

tjndc5-5hlr2jwtx76vlggdjbj_thumbnailThe U.S. Attorney’s office just released a statement announcing that Preet Bharara has decided to forego a possible fifth attempt to convict John “Junior” Gotti after his first four trials ended in hung juries.

“In light of the circumstances, the Government has decided not to proceed with the prosecution against John A. Gotti,” Bharara said in the statement.

Bharara’s office submitted what is called a “nolle prosequi” order for approval by U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel, who oversaw the last Gotti trial where the son of former Gambino Crime Family boss John “Dapper Don” Gotti walked out of court a free man following Castel’s declaration of a mistrial on Dec. 2 when the jury said it could not reach a verdict. “Nolle prosequi” is a legal term derived from the Latin that basically means the prosecution will not continue.

The feds do have a conviction of Gotti stemming from a 1998 case where he and now-deceased Gambino capo Greg DePalma of Scarsdale were charged with extorting the notorious – or famous depending on your viewpoint – Manhattan strip club Scores. It was while he was in prison on that conviction that Gotti said he quit the mob. Federal prosecutors and the FBI disagreed and tried to prove it four times after Gotti was released from prison.

Bharara addresses terrorist trial in NYC

During a news conference in White Plains today to announce the arrests of 37 people in connection with a Westchester County drug ring, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was asked about the decision by his bosses at the Justice Department and the White House to bring self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused terrorists to New York to stand trial in a civilian court.

“We’re honored and proud that the Attorney General is sending the case to the Southern District of New York and we’ve answered that call,” Bharara said. “And our job is to make the best criminal case that we can and that’s what we do best and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Biggest trial ever coming to NYC

It looks like the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and others accused of various roles in the plot, are going to be tried in federal court in Manhattan rather than before a military tribunal. Click here to read the latest on this development.

I can’t imagine the jury selection process for this — what New York City resident wasn’t affected by 9/11? How are prosecutors and the defense lawyers going to find fair and impartial jurors? And the security! That courthouse will be on lockdown. It’ll make the 2004 Republican National Convention, where you needed to flash a different badge every 20 feet, where guards snatched glass (potential shards!) makeup bottles from women and where small folding umbrellas were considered dangerous weapons (you still owe me a Totes, GOP), seem like the Wild Wild West. Reporters who want to cover this better get in line for the press passes now.

Kerik’s legal muscle again at issue

Bernard Kerik's jail mug shot

Bernard Kerik's jail mug shot

Former NYPD Commisioner Bernie Kerik will be back in court this afternoon where federal prosecutors are expected to lay out their reasons why they think Judge Stephen C. Robinson should conduct a hearing to determine if Kerik’s lawyers Barry Berke and Eric Tirschwell are barred by potential conflicts from representing Kerik.

It’s deja vu all over again for the former presidential nominee for secretary of Homeland Security now known in Valhalla as Inmate #210717. Federal prosecutors got his last lawyer, Ken Breen, bounced from the case the same way. Breen, it turns out, is a potential witness in the case.

Whatever the outcome of the case, Kerik can’t complain he had a lack of talent working on his side of the aisle.  Breen’s bona fides include 10 years  as a federal prosecutor, part of which was a stint as the deputy chief of the securities and business fraud section in the US Attorney’s office in Brooklyn. And his current lawyers hardly represent a step down: Berke has been recognized as one of  the 50 best litigators in the country under the age of 45 by the magazine The American Lawyer. Tirschwell was recognized last year by Lawdragon as one of the 500 best lawyers in the country.

And all that doesn’t even include headline-making defense lawyer Joe Tacopina who represented Kerik when he was prosecuted by the Bronx D.A.’s office and in the early stages of the federal investigation. Tacopina, fresh off his successful defense of  state senator Hiram Monserrate against felony charges stemming from the slashing of his girlfriend, is expected to be called by federal prosecutors to testify against Kerik.

The judge’s warning

During former NYPD commish Bernard Kerik’s pre-trial conference today, federal Judge Stephen C. Robinson issued what for him has become the standard warning to lawyers about to go before a jury in his courtroom.

Robinson noted in federal prosecutors’ and defense lawyers’ filings leading up to the trial skedded to start Oct. 13 “there tends to be an edge in some of the writing.”

“This is going to be a hotly contested trial, I’m sure,” he said.

That led Robinson to tell defense lawyer Barry Berke and prosecutors Michael Bosworth and Elliott Jacobson to keep things calm and cordial in front of the jury – or else.

The judge gave them his three-step curative for unruly behavior by lawyers. First, he said, he warns them out of ear shot of the jury. Second, he warns them  “with a rising level of anger.” Then there’s the final step, what amounts to the judicial equivalent of a public flogging.

“I’m going to call you out in front of the jury,” he said.

Robinson’s not fooling around about this stuff. It all stems from the first trial the judge oversaw after becoming a federal judge in late 2003. In December that year, while Robinson was still getting used to the fit of the new black robe, he was assigned the criminal trial of  lawyer Donald Roth and private investigator David St. John, accused of witness tampering. The trial was a raucous two-month affair with Robinson engaging in what seemed like almost daily battles with defense lawyers Bill  Aronwald and Larry Hochheiser, two veteran bulldog attorneys who used to be prosecutors. Ever since that case – Roth and St. John were convicted – Robinson has laid down the law to attorneys appearing for trial before him. He makes it clear that he’s the boss and that the jury will be on his side in any conflict with the attorneys.

“My juries like me,” he said today.

There’s a new sheriff in town, and his name…

…is not Reggie Hammond.
It’s Preet Bharara.
Bharara, 40, has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the next U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, the highest-profile and (many would say) most important federal district in the nation.
Bharara has been chief counsel to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer on the Senate Judiciary Committee for the past four years.
Schumer recommended Bharara to the top prosecutor spot earlier this year and his confirmation was a foregone conclusion. Acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin has held the post since Michael Garcia, a Bush appointee and Westchester resident, left the office in December.
Bharara, who worked as a line prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan from 2000 to 2005, rose to prominence as a result of his work on the Judiciary Committee’s investigation of the firing of several U.S. attorneys in 2006. That investigation led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Schumer announced Bharara’s confirmation in an email: “The Southern District of New York will soon be tasked with one of the most important agendas of any office in the country, and no person is better qualified to take it on than Preet Bharara. He has served the Senate for nearly five years with the utmost intelligence, integrity and effectiveness. I know he will do the same as U.S. attorney.”

She oughta know

As Judge Kenneth Karas stood behind the bench in his crowded courtroom this morning, waiting for the jury to enter, he gauged the temperature in the room.

“Is it warm in here?” he asked.

One courtroom observer, sitting in the third row, answered immediately.

“Always,” she said.

She should know. The expert on the climate in Courtroom 521 was Judge Colleen McMahon. That was her courtroom for nine years before she transferred down to Manhattan, where she currently is stationed. McMahon was back in White Plains today because she’s handling some criminal cases to ease the burden on judges Karas and Robinson. The third full-time district judge in the building, Cathy Seibel, still can’t take on a full criminal case load because many of the cases being indicted are the result of investigations that began while she was a top lieutenant of then U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia.

Simoesus Interruptus

OK, it’s not a legal term. But it should be after yesterday.

With all the activity surrounding the breaking terrorism case in the Brieant Courthouse yesterday, I was only able to pop in and out of the Wayne Simoes trial for a few minutes. Here’s what I caught: The prosecution rested after finishing up with Yonkers cop Todd Mendelson. Interestingly, Mendelson did not draw the same glares from some of the assembled throng of Yonkers cops that his partner John Liberatore did after he testified for the prosecution earlier this week.

Mendelson testified that he did not see Simoes throw Marquez to the ground of the restaurant and that Simoes seemed shaken up aftter the incident. But he also testified he didn’t see Simoes’ foot slip as the defense contends happened when he grabbed Irma Marquez inside La Fonda Restaurant. He said Marquez was loud and intoxicated but not a threat. He said he was too close to Simoes and Marquez to actually see what happened. But he said he saw no reason to take her to to the ground.

That was yesterday. Today, Simoes’ side called its video expert, the owner of La Fonda Restaurant, and a Yonkers emergency services cop.

Interestingly, the defense didn’t cross-examine either Julian Santos, the bar owner, or Chris Kowatch, the ESU cop. 

And Judge Kenneth Karas said he was expecting an objection from the prosecution when defense lawyer Andrew Quinn asked video expert Grant Fredericks if he thought Simoes threw or dropped Marquez. Fredericks said he dropped her. Prior to the trial, Karas had ruled that Fredericks wouldn’t be allowed to offer his interpretation of that, just what was happening in each of the 199 frames from the video of the incident .

But the prosecution didn’t object when Quinn asked Fredericks that question. Karas said after the jury left the room today that he expected an objection from the prosecution team of Anna Skotko, Cynthia Dunne, and Benjamin Torrance. But none came. Quinn said he asked because he felt the prosecution had opened the door with its cross-examination of Fredericks. The judge didn’t think so.

“I don’t know why you didn’t object,” the judge said to Skotko.

“It came out of left field,” Skotko said.

Just asking…

As Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Torrance was getting set to begin his opening remarks today in the Wayne Simoes trial, a steady stream of federal prosecutors, investigators, public affairs people, and support staff made their way up the two flights from the U.S. attorney’s office and into the 5th floor courtroom of Judge Kenneth Karas. 

The prosecutorial parade led one courthouse wag to wonder, “Jeez, is anybody working on the 3rd floor?”