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.

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.'”

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.

Another not guilty plea for Kerik

Already facing two federal criminal trials in White Plains, former NYPD Commish Bernie Kerik took the first steps toward a third trial by pleading not guilty today in Washington, D.C., to charges he lied to White House officials who were vetting him for the position of Secretary of Homeland Security. Pres. George Bush nominated him for the post in December 2004.

Kerik was indicted here in November 2007 on public corruption and tax fraud charges as well as the White House charges. But Judge Stephen C. Robinson has since ruled that the tax charges must be tried separately from the public corruption charges. And Kerik refused to waive jurisdiction on the D.C. charges. So one became three.

The federal investigation into Kerik came to light in September 2006 when former Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro announced that she was under federal investigation for allegedly trying to get Kerik to plant a listening bug on the boat of her husband, Albert Pirro Jr. Pirro suspected her husband was cheating on her.

No charges were ever filed regarding those allegations. Pirro was running for Attorney General at the time and said the leaking of the investigation  —  her announcement came shortly before WNBC News was to go on the air with a story about the probe —  was politically motivated.

Kerik’s first trial in White Plains is slated for October. His D.C. case has been put on hold until his White Plains trials are done. His next scheduled court appearance in Washington is Jan. 22.

Barb from the bench

Judge Stephen C. Robinson has earned a reputation during his five and a half years on the bench at the Brieant Courthouse for a wit that is as sharp as it is quick.

Lawyers appearing before the judge have come to expect the judge’s quips — though to be fair Robinson is at least as likely to jab himself as anyone else. Usually, his able courtroom deputy Brandon Skolnik is his foil.

Today, though, it was defense lawyer Seth Ginsberg who was the target. Ginsberg, along with his co-counsel Charles Carnesi, has confounded federal prosecutors repeatedly in their efforts to nail alleged Gambino Crime Family scion John Gotti Jr. by battling them to a standoff at several trials. He was in White Plains today representing Renata Kuehl, a Patterson woman convicted of bank fraud who stood for sentencing.

Robinson greeted the prosecution team by name and turned to do the same with the defense table. After saying hello to Mr. Ginsberg and Mr. Carnesi, he said good morning to Ms. Ginsberg, mistakenly identifying the defendant before correcting himself.

“That’s my wife,” Ginsberg said, joking about the Mrs. Ginsberg reference.

Without missing a beat, the judge replied:

“She may need to be committed, not sentenced.”

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.