Last member of Peekskill drug crew gets 25 years in prison

The last of the members of the infamous Barnes Brothers drug crew that operated out of Peekskill was sentenced today to 25 years in prison for his part in the violent crack cocaine organization.

U.S. District Judge Stephen C. Robinson sentenced Tuere Barnes, 27, in U.S. District Court in White Plains more than a year after a federal jury convicted him of racketeering, narcotics conspiracy, murder conspiracy, kidnapping, and possessing a firearm in connection with a violent crime.

Barnes is the younger brother of kingpin Khalid Barnes who was sentenced to life in prison after a jury spared him the death penalty following his conviction in the cold-blooded killings of two other drug dealers in Manhattan. The crew operated from 1995 to March 2004, federal prosecutors said.

All 11 members of the Barnes crew have been convicted. Another defendant in the case who was not a member of the crew, Anthony “Toast” Paulino, remains on the lam.

Next court appearance Friday for Yonkers corruption defendants

tjndc5-5rb7zpgc3ew12qfzvdfc_thumbnailJust got word that the three defendants in the Yonkers corruption case are going to be in court Friday for their first appearance before the judge who will handle their case, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon.

Sandy Annabi (pictured left), Anthony Mangone, and Zehy Jereis have a 2:15 conference scheduled in McMahon’s Manhattan courtroom Friday afternoon. The appearance is in Manhattan because McMahon is assigned to the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl St. But she has been taking on cases based at the White Plains courthouse due to a backlog created by the deaths of judges Charles Brieant and Wiliam Conner.

U.S. District Judge Cathy Seibel was appointed to replace Brieant. But she is limited in the number of criminal cases she can handle because of her previous gig as a high-ranking member of the U.S. Attorney’s office. Seibel was the number two person in the U.S. Attorney’s office, serving as then-U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia’s chief deputy. Seibel cannot oversee cases that started as investigations while she was still in the U.S. attorney’s office. The Yonkers case began in March 2007, more than a year before Seibel was nominated to the federal bench.

There’s no indication that the Yonkers case will be moved to Manhattan. McMahon sits in the White Plains courthouse one Friday a month, and future court appearances will probably be timed to that schedule. McMahon also has the high-profile terrorism case involving four Newburgh men charged with trying to blow up synagogues in the Bronx. That case has remained in the White Plains courthouse.

Terror case conference cancelled

Scratch Friday’s scheduled court appearance for one of the four Newburgh men charged with attempting to blow up Bronx synagogues and shoot down military aircraft at Stewart Air Base.

White Plains lawyer Theodore Green had requested the hearing for his client David Williams to determine if officials at the Westchester County Jail were restricting Williams from properly assisting in his defense by holding him in 23-hour lockdown away from the general population.

But Green filed a letter to U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon that said he had met with the warden and the situation has been straightened out. Williams has been moved back into general population and has the same law library access as two of his co-defendants (Onta Williams and James Cromitie) who are also being held at the jail in Valhalla. The fourth defendant in the case, Laguerre Payen, is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.

The next court appearance for the four accused men will be April 30.

Still in the game

A common refrain about federal law enforcement post-9/11 is that the feds are no longer in the business of fighting the illegal drug trade. It was repeated several times on the greatest television show ever — “The Wire.”  Anti-terrorism and the Wall Street meltdown with its associated financial scandals may indeed have focused the feds’ resources elsewhere. But that  doesn’t mean federal agents and prosecutors aren’t still in the game.

Just ask the 53 Bronx residents charged in six sweeping federal indictments aimed at the crack and heroin trade in two Bronx housing projects. Some 450 federal agents and New York City cops descended upon the Morrisania section of the Bronx this morning to corral more than three dozen of the accused. And the feds used all the weapons at their disposal in the investigation —wiretaps, informants, undercover officers — to build the case that resulted in the execution of 22 search warrants this morning and the seizure of $18,000, four guns, and 1000 bags of heroin.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called a press conference to announce the arrests, the third such news event since he was sworn in last month. The first two were connected to white collar cases.  Read the release issued by Bharara’s office here.

To jail or not to jail

Judge Stephen C. Robinson said today that, contrary to a few media reports, he was not “angry” during last week’s hearing where he ordered former NYPD Commissioner Bernie Kerik jailed for slipping confidential court docs to a New Jersey lawyer who used them to formulate an email sent to but never printed in the Washington Times.

I’m going to take the judge at his word and must admit having seen him, shall we say, more animated in his disappointment at other times (the defense’s opening argument in the James Curley trial jumps to mind.)

In addition, I guess it’s hard to accuse a judge of being irate when he off the top of his head recites, flawlessly, a Shakespearean sonnet in reference to a defendant. Robinson  reached for the Bard’s No. 29 in explaining that he thought Kerik saw himself as an unfairly castigated man. It goes a little something like this:

“When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries

And look upon myself and curse my fate,

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,

Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”

One of Kerik’s lawyers, Michael Bachner, duly impressed, sheepishly admitted the only line of Shakespeare he knew by heart was from Hamlet. (“To thine own self be true.”)

Robinson, as quick a wit as you’ll find on any bench, replied, “What about, ‘First kill all the lawyers.'”

Bernie Kerik: Pirro’s still on the air?

Former NYPD commish Bernie Kerik has, for the most part, ignored the coterie of reporters who have attended his appearances in federal court in White Plains. Queries are met with a polite “no comment” and the same non-plussed look that Kerik has carried since his first appearance on Nov. 9, 2007, after he was indicted on charges of public corruption, tax fraud, and lying to White House officials.

But today as his lawyers and federal prosecutors talked with a federal judge in the judge’s chambers about a separate federal grand jury investigation, Kerik ambled over to the rail between the defense table and the gallery rows and struck up a conversation with me that went from weather, to terrorism, to Jeanine Pirro’s TV show, “Judge Jeanine Pirro.”

Talking about the case of  Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan immigrant accused of being an al-Qaida operative who plotted to carry out terrorist attacks in New York City, Kerik wondered if al-Qaida might not be aping the tactics of the notorious Cali drug cartel. Kerik said the Cali cartel used to send their hit squad operatives in teams where each team would have no idea of the others’ existence or the mission until until their overseas handler told them to meet up. Kerik said if Zazi had been successful in carrying out any attacks the effect would be greater than 9/11 regardless of whether the attacks approached the scale of  9/11.

“It would shut us down,” he said.

News of the federal investigation of Kerik broke when Jeanine Pirro, the former Westchester district attorney, announced ahead of a news story that she was under investigation for allegedly conspiring with Kerik to illegally bug her husband Albert Pirro Jr.’s boat. Jeanine Pirro suspected her husband of carrying on an extramarital affair on the boat. Neither she nor Kerik were ever charged in connection with that incident.

But Kerik apparently has not been keeping tabs on his alleged co-conspirator.

“Is her show still on?” he asked when Pirro’s name was mentioned.

Yes, it is, Commissioner. Channel 5, 4 p.m., Monday thru Friday.

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.