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Ex-FBI counsel implicated in surveillance abuses nominated to crucial federal bench
Published time: September 11, 2013 22:58
The former top lawyer at the FBI deeply implicated in surveillance abuses revealed before and by Edward Snowden’s leaks was confirmed as a federal judge in a top court for terrorism cases this week.
The US Senate voted 73-24 on Monday in approving Valerie Caproni, Federal Bureau of Investigation general counsel from 2003 to 2011, to the Southern District of New York, one of the country's most important federal courts for terrorism cases.
Caproni has received bipartisan criticism for allowing and defending surveillance abuses both found to be overbroad during her tenure and those not disclosed when she was counsel but later revealed to be inappropriate or illegal. For example, the Snowden leaks showed Caproni mischaracterized the limits of the Patriot Act during her term.
A 2010 report by the Department of Justice revealed the FBI inappropriately used non-judicial subpoenas called “exigent letters” to gather phone numbers of over 5,550 Americans until 2006.
"The FBI broke the law on telephone records privacy and the general counsel's office, headed by Valerie Caproni, sanctioned it and must face consequences," said John Conyers in April 2010 as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Conyers called for Caproni’s firing at the time over the use of the non-judicial subpoenas, according to the Guardian.
"It's not in the Patriot Act. It never has been. And its use, perhaps coincidentally, began in the same month that Ms Valerie Caproni began her work as general counsel," Conyers said in 2010.
Caproni told House lawmakers in 2008 if phone numbers -- acquired from telephone companies by the FBI via the non-judicial subpoenas evidently sanctioned in the Patriot Act -- were not related to a "currently open investigation, and there was no emergency at the time we received the records, the records are removed from our files and destroyed.”
Yet revelations found in documents supplied by Snowden outlined how the National Security Agency stores phone records on all Americans for up five years no matter if they are associated with an open investigation or not. In addition, it’s been found that the NSA has the capability to feed the FBI phone records if there is a "reasonable articulable suspicion" they are related to terrorism.
"Caproni knew that the Bush administration could use or was using the Section 215 provision in the Patriot Act to obtain Americans' phone records on a broad scale, an issue that has recently been documented by the whistleblower material first printed in the Guardian," Lisa Graves, a former deputy assistant attorney general who dealt with Caproni while working on national security issues for the ACLU, told the Guardian.
In 2007, DOJ’s Inspector General Glenn Fine found the FBI was serially abusing National Security Letters -- a demand regarding national security independent of legal subpoenas-- to obtain business records, including "unauthorized collection of telephone or internet email transactional records.” While the larger collection of phone records was still not exposed at the time, Caproni called the inappropriate collection a “colossal failure on our part.”
"Government officials that secretly approved of overbroad surveillance programs the public is only seeing now because of leaks, and whose testimony on the issue obscured rather than revealed these abuses, should be held to account for their actions in a public forum," former FBI agent Mike German told the Guardian.
"She is a woman with impeccable credentials," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Monday. "This country needs more women like her."
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http://mashable.com/2013/09/11/fbi-micr ... -backdoor/
Did the FBI Lean On Microsoft for Access to Its Encryption Software?
September 11, 2013
The NSA is reportedly not the only government agency asking tech companies for help in cracking technology to access user data. Sources say the FBI has a history of requesting digital backdoors, which are generally understood as a hidden vulnerability in a program that would, in theory, let the agency peek into suspects' computers and communications.
In 2005, when Microsoft was about to launch BitLocker, its Windows software to encrypt and lock hard drives, the company approached the NSA, its British counterpart the GCHQ and the FBI, among other government and law-enforcement agencies. Microsoft's goal was twofold: get feedback from the agencies, and sell BitLocker to them.
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http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20 ... e=printart
Lawsuit asks FBI to release Sarasota 9/11 documents
September 10, 2013 at 3:45 p.m.
Twelve years after the 9/11 attacks that included three hijacker pilots trained in Venice, the terrorists' alleged interaction with a high-echelon Saudi family that lived in Sarasota remains shrouded in secrecy.
But Sunshine law and Freedom of Information Act requests filed by an independent South Florida news organization have chipped away at the FBI's position that information related to the family remain secret.
Depending on how a federal judge in Broward County rules, the FBI could, theoretically, be compelled to reveal documents and field notes in the case.
Broward Bulldog editor Dan Christensen and former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham say the documents could shed light on how the locally trained terrorists were managed and supported.
Graham, former Florida governor and a co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, a Congressional body that investigated the attacks, believes the FBI has covered up Saudi support of the terrorists.
Graham also chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee during and after 9/11. He has chimed in on the ongoing federal lawsuit by the Broward Bulldog against the FBI and the Department of Justice, filing a 15-page declaration of the facts as he knows them.
The former senator wants more disclosure about what happened in Sarasota because he feels it may add to a bigger, largely censored subject: Who financed and supported the 9/11 terror attacks?
"It is a big onion, which is being slowly peeled," Graham told the Herald-Tribune. "We are continuing with all the means that are still available to us to get this material into the hands of the public."
"And the FBI is aggressively resisting the release of any additional documents," he said. "The question is, why are they doing this? What interest does the FBI have in denying the existence of its own documents?"
"Beyond that, they have thrown a blanket of national security over virtually everything, and why are they doing that for an event that occurred, soon to be, 12 years ago?"
Larry Berberich -- a man who played a pivotal security role at Sarasota's Prestancia neighorhood, where the Saudis in question lived at the time -- has his own view of what Graham describes as a blanket.
"Some of the local departments knew a hell of a lot about what was going on and were feeding the FBI that information," said Berberich, who was then a Prestancia board member nominally in charge of security and an unpaid security consultant to the sheriff at that time, Bill Balkwill.
Shortly after local law enforcement entered the vacated home of the Saudis in Prestancia, he said, "everything went black."
Berberich told the Herald-Tribune local law enforcement personnel privy to evidence were muzzled.
He declined to elaborate.
The neighbors noticed
At the time of the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush was visiting a school in Sarasota.
Then came the revelation that three of the hijackers learned to fly at Venice Airport.
The story about a family of Saudis who suddenly left their home in suburban Sarasota about two weeks before the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. -- leaving food on the counter, a dirty diaper, three vehicles and an empty safe -- went unreported.
But it did not go unnoticed by neighbors.
The house was owned by Esam Ghazzawi, a well-connected businessman whose family had a long history with Saudi Arabia's royal family.
In the year leading up to 9/11, the Ghazzawi property at 4224 Escondito Circle was home to the patriarch's daughter and son-in-law, Anoud and Abdulaziz al-Hijji. The man was a college student here, and he and his wife had small children.
The couple's Saudi nationality, the trash they left at the curb, and the cars they left in the driveway created a hubbub in the staid gated community. Acting on tips from neighbors, law enforcement swept into the home within weeks after the terror attacks and confiscated boxes of potential evidence.
The incident was forgotten until it showed up in research by authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, as they were collecting material for their Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, "The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11."
Summers had interviewed a still-unnamed counterterrorism officer who told him that the FBI knew much more than it was saying about Prestancia.
With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 then approaching, Summers asked Christensen, a former Miami Herald investigative reporter and Broward Bulldog's editor, to help develop the Sarasota angle of the story.
From that interview and others, Summers and Christensen described alleged connections between the terrorists who learned to fly in Venice and the residents of the 3,300-square-foot home in Prestancia.
Just 15 miles separated the neighborhood and Venice Airport, where hijackers trained before piloting two jets into the World Trade Center and a third into a Pennsylvania field after passengers overtook them.
Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi took flight lessons at the airport's former Huffman Aviation. Ziad Jarra took flight lessons at the neighboring Florida Flight Training Center.
Atta and al-Shehhi are believed to have flown jets into the twin towers. Jarra is believed to have been the pilot of United Flight 93, which went down in Pennsylvania amid a passenger uprising.
The men knew each other from Germany and were part of what is referred to in 9/11 literature as the "Hamburg cell."
"Phone records and the Prestancia gate records linked the house on Escondito Circle to the hijackers," the Broward Bulldog reported in its 10th anniversary story.
Those findings were published not just on Christensen's Bulldog website, but also in the Herald-Tribune, Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times in September 2011.
Within days, the FBI went on the defensive, stating that the agency had followed up on the "referenced Sarasota home and family" and interviewed family members and found no evidence connecting them to hijackers.
"The anonymous 'counterterrorism officer' cited in the article apparently was not an FBI agent and had no access to the facts and circumstances pertaining to the resolution of this lead, otherwise this person would know that this matter was resolved without any nexus to the 9/11 plot," wrote FBI special agent Steven E. Ibison, who was the supervisor of the Tampa field office.
FBI officials in Tampa declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing litigation.
That does not surprise Tom Julin, a Miami First Amendment attorney who is representing the Broward Bulldog.
"The FBI, I think, went out of its way to discredit the initial reporting that Dan and Tony Summers had done," Julin said.
The FBI's reaction prompted a Freedom of Information quest, which culminated in a lawsuit before federal District Court Judge William L. Zloch, a former University of Notre Dame quarterback appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan.
"Basically Dan was saying, 'If you are telling me I am wrong, show me the documents.'"
While the Saudi family's sudden departure was intriguing, the smoking gun in the Bulldog investigation was the allegation that agents discovered phone records and Prestancia gate records that linked the Escondito Circle house to the hijackers.
Prestancia has two gates, manned by security guards who noted license plate numbers of visitors, asked drivers their names and recorded what home they were visiting.
An FBI document released to Christensen in April suggests the agency did not hold on to the gate-keeper records.
But that seems unlikely, says Berberich, the former Prestancia Homeowners Association director.
Now a Manatee County resident, Berberich then lived in a 12,000-square-foot home overlooking Prestancia's golf course.
With a background in military electronics and top-secret clearances from years ago, it was Berberich who helped Sarasota County law enforcement officials enter the Escondito Circle home. He also instructed Prestancia employees to fully cooperate with federal officials.
On two occasions since, Berberich has gone back to the Prestancia guard shack where the visitor logs were kept, he said.
"You've got records before that time, and records after that time," said Berberich, now 75. "There is a gap at the time in question. So that substantiates that it got turned over to somebody."
In his declaration to the federal court in the Broward Bulldog suit, Berberich described what he and law enforcement officials found in the home. "There was mail on the table, dirty diapers in one of the bathrooms," he said. "All of the toiletries were still in place." "The refrigerator was full of food as if the residents had just gone shopping before leaving."
"We also found a safe in the home had been emptied and it appeared that a computer had been removed," he said.
Berberich said that he had his eyes on the home before the terror attacks.
There were six or seven young men who visited on a regular basis. Vehicles later associated with the hijackers carried them to the gates of the country club community.
Their friendship with al-Hijji got them admitted, Berberich said.
He said he knows that because license plates associated with several vehicles now connected to the terrorists were recorded on numerous occasions by gate guards. The passengers said they were were headed for 4224 Escondito Circle.
"It was common for them to come into Prestancia, two, three in a car," Berberich said. "I mean, more than a person coming in a car, and more than one car coming in."
The Ghazzawi family has a decades-long history of operating at the highest levels of Saudi society, the Herald-Tribune has found.
As King Saud prepared for a state visit with President Dwight Eisenhower, Abbas Ghazzawi, who appears to be Esam Ghazzawi's father, was part of the royal entourage.
In exchange for being able to keep a U.S. military base within Saudi Arabia's borders, President Eisenhower agreed to allow the Saudi government to buy up to $500 million worth of U.S.-made arms.
The deal did not come together overnight, and Abbas Ghazzawi flew to New York, from Madrid, on Jan. 25, 1957, according to passenger lists kept by U.S. officials.
The elder Ghazzawi was accompanied by three other Saudis, including a man who would later serve as Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S., Faisal al-Hegelan.
The Ghazzawi family's ties to America grew stronger years later when, in 1970, 17-year-old Esam Ghazzawi married American Deborah G. Browning.
Esam Ghazzawi's family later established a presence in Southwest Florida, building a home on Longboat Key's Putter Lane.
Esam and Deborah Ghazzawi bought the Prestancia home in September 1995, records show. Five months later, their daughter Anoud married Abdulaziz al-Hijji. He was 19 and she was 17, their Sarasota County marriage license shows.
Al-Hijji attended Manatee Community College, now State College of Florida, and then the University of South Florida, where he received a bachelor's.
Abdulaziz al-Hijji knew some of the terrorists who were in training at Venice Airport, according to a former friend who provided the information to an FBI agent and a Sarasota County Sheriff's Office detective in 2004.
The informant, a Sarasota cellphone store owner named Wissam Hammoud, made the claim while awaiting trial in the Hillsborough County Jail on federal charges. He is now serving a 21-year sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty in August 2005 to charges of plotting to kill a federal agent and a confidential informant.
Through the U.S. Attorney's Office, Hammoud arranged to be interviewed by Sarasota sheriff's Detective Michael Otis and FBI agent Leo Martinez, who worked in the agency's Fort Myers field office, according to a 2004 investigative report file by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Christensen obtained that document through a Sunshine law request made in late 2011 after the FBI attempted to discredit his story.
Hammoud told investigators that he met Abdulaziz al-Hijji through his own relatives in Sarasota in 1996. Hammoud described al-Hijji as very well schooled in Islam, the FDLE report states.
Hammoud said that Abdulaziz al-Hijji told him that al-Hijji's wife, Anoud, had family that provided her with money, but that her husband received none from his wife.
Hammoud told investigators that he often exercised with Abdulaziz al-Hijji at the Shapes Fitness center near the Prestancia neighborhood, and that the two played soccer together on property surrounding a Sarasota mosque.
Al-Hijji brought a friend to the games who Hammoud claimed was Adnan El Shukrijumah, a man who was federally indicted in 2010 for his alleged role in a terrorist plot to attack New York City's subway system. The FBI is currently offering a $5 million reward for information leading to El Shukrijumah's capture, and he is listed by the FBI as being one of the "most wanted terrorists."
The plot, uncovered in September 2009, was directed by senior Al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan, and El Shukrijumah is thought to have been part of the group's external operations hierarchy, according to an FBI-issued "Wanted" poster.
In an interview with the London Telegraph in February 2012, al-Hijji emphatically denied any connection to hijackers, stating that he loved America.
Al-Hijji acknowledged knowing Hammoud, but said the name "Shukrajumah" did not ring a bell.
Hammoud told investigators that he helped Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji by clearing the residence on Escondito Circle after they left Sarasota, putting their belongings in storage. He said he was asked to sell one of al-Hijji's vehicles, a Volkswagen Beetle, and send the couple the proceeds.
Hammoud told investigators al-Hijji had gone to work for the Saudi-owned oil company Aramco. After leaving the U.S. in August 2001, al-Hijji went to Saudi Arabia first, and was later transferred to an Aramco office in London, the FDLE 2004 report states.
It took much longer for the FBI to give Christensen any real information about 9/11 and its potential relationship with Sarasota family.
This spring, with no explanation, the FBI mailed Christensen 31 pages of heavily redacted documents.
One of them, dated April 2002, appears to contradict the FBI's claim that there was no connection between the Prestancia family and hijackers.
The document states, "Further investigation of the (name deleted) family revealed many connections between the (name deleted) and individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 09/11/2001. More specifically, a (name deleted) family member (name deleted) also known as (name deleted) DOB (date deleted) last known address (address deleted) Florida, was a flight student at Huffman Aviation."
The agency redacted many of the names in the 31 pages released under exemptions that protect people's names in law enforcement records. But it is clear who the subjects are because the documents specifically cite the al-Hijjis' residence on Escondito Circle.
To Christensen, the statement was a breakthrough in his quest for documents.
"It is important because it establishes that there were connections between these people and the hijackers," Christensen said. "It says it very clearly, and it is also at odds with what the FBI has said before."
Graham, the former senator and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, made his sworn declaration in Broward Bulldog's lawsuit after that document surfaced and referenced it in his own highly detailed report to the court.
"Once the FBI had found 'many connections' between the persons under investigation and individuals associated with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the FBI should have taken statements from all persons who knew those persons, should have obtained the gatehouse records of the Prestancia subdivision where 4224 Escondito Circle is located, should have compared the license plates on vehicles that the FBI had reason to believe that the terrorists used with photographs that were taken of license tags that passed through the Prestancia gatehouse, should have obtained financial records showing how homeowners' association fees were paid, and should have created inventories of property taken from the home, at a minimum," Graham wrote the court. "I have further been advised that the request specified that the activities involve apparent visits to that address by some of the decreased 9/11 hijackers."
Graham's 15-page declaration is accompanied by the entire 9/11 Commission report and by the "Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001," which is the work of the joint Congressional committee that Graham chaired.
Since the Joint Inquiry report was published in 2003, Graham has been trying within two presidential administrations to make public the chapter on how the terrorists were financed and supported.
In a guest editorial published by the Huffington Post in September 2012, Graham was more explicit about the contents of the censored chapter.
"Sadly, those 28 pages represent only a fraction of the evidence of Saudi complicity that our government continues to shield from the public, under a flawed classification program which appears to be part of a systematic effort to protect Saudi Arabia from any real accountability for its actions," Graham wrote.
The search goes on
In June, Judge Zloch denied a request by an assistant U.S. attorney representing the FBI to dismiss the Broward Bulldog's Freedom-of-Information-Act case.
Then Zloch invited Julin, Christensen's attorney, to tell the court exactly how he would recommend that the FBI proceed to do a better search for the materials that were being sought.
Julin's 15-page report asks the agency to use its "Sentinel system" to conduct searches, on top of the antiquated system that the agency used to generate the limited results turned over to the plaintiffs so far.
The Miami lawyer also asked for a manual review of the Tampa files on the case, which are voluminous.
He also asked for a series of test searches that the FBI apparently did not use previously that he said could produce results.
For example, Julin suggested trying the names of the family that owned the home -- the Ghazzawis -- and the names of the house's residents, the al-Hijjis.
He suggested the agency get a little more creative, trying searches like "Prestancia and gatehouse," "Prestancia and Mohamed Atta," "Escondito and Mohamed Atta," "Prestancia and Huffman Aviation," and so on.
The agent in charge of the Sarasota investigation, Gregory Sheffield, has since been reassigned to the FBI's Honolulu field office.
Julin asked that the FBI be compelled to ask Sheffield basic questions about his knowledge of the evidentiary files and where they are, and then to follow up on those leads.
Should Judge Zloch follow Julin's suggestions on how to proceed, there is the potential for opening up thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of new documents held in the FBI's Tampa field office, according to one of the responses filed by FBI's representative in the suit, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carole Fernandez.
In August, as part of Fernandez's reasoning for blocking the release of documents, she told the court:
"The FBI's Tampa office alone has more than 15,352 documents (serials) which together contain, potentially, hundreds of thousands of pages of records related to the 9/11 investigation," the federal attorney. "The manual review which plaintiffs are requesting is not reasonable, nor is it warranted."
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http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-1 ... wsuit.html
FBI Director James Comey Added to Revised NSA Surveillance Lawsuit
A lawsuit alleging that the National Security Agency violated the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens now includes claims against new FBI Director James Comey, Bloomberg reports.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed the original lawsuit in July, alleges the NSA, with the help of the Justice Department and FBI, surreptitiously collected information about “all telephone calls transiting the networks of all major telecommunication companies.”
Comey was added to the suit as a defendant.
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http://www.cbsatlanta.com/story/2340676 ... ist-attack
FBI war room ready for potential terrorist attack
Sep 11, 2013
Mark Giuliano is the special agent in charge of the FBI's office in Atlanta. Giuliano said there is no specific terrorist threat, at this time, but the FBI is ready just in case.
"We can't afford to let our guard down," said Giuliano.
The walls of the FBI's office contain pictures of those who were responsible for the devastating attack on Sept. 11, 2001, that killed close to 3,000 and injured some 6,000.
Since then, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the FBI and other federal and local law enforcement agencies set up command centers to monitor and prepare just in case there are additional attacks.
"We are monitoring the information coming in from overseas, in our intelligence community and from our state, local and federal counterparts here to look for threats," said Giuliano.
Angela Tobon is the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's National Security team.
"We're watching what's going on social wise, social media and listening to our counterparts in other agencies," said Tobon. "We've got agents on standby. If we need to respond to something they are ready to go, SWAT teams, TAC teams, investigative teams or providing assistance to other agencies."
The FBI also assembled a team of analysts.
"Everybody knows today is a heightened alert day and everybody is prepared," said Tobon.
If something were to happen in the Metro Atlanta area, representatives from just about every agency would assemble in what the FBI calls its war room.
Scott Dutton is with the GBI.
Charles Hynes, Scandal-Plagued Brooklyn District Attorney, Faces Verdict At The Polls
The year was 1990. George H.W. Bush was president. The song "Hold On" by Wilson Phillips was number one on the Billboard chart. And Charles "Joe" Hynes, celebrated for his role as a special prosecutor in a racially charged case in Howard Beach, began his first term as Brooklyn District Attorney.
Bush's presidency came and went; his son's did too. Wilson Phillips went on a 10-year hiatus; then got back together in 2004.
Hynes, all along the way, has done exactly what that top 1990 ballad instructed: He's held on. He's been Brooklyn's top law man for nearly 24 years, making him one of the longest serving district attorneys in New York City history.
But Hynes's once firm grasp on the position could be imperiled. Buffeted by controversial cases, charges of misconduct in his office, and concerns about possibly preferential treatment for Jewish residents of the borough, Hynes is seen by political strategists to be facing a serious challenge from Kenneth Thompson, an African-American former federal prosecutor. On Tuesday, Sept. 10, voters in the Brooklyn Democratic primary could deny Hynes a chance at a seventh term.
Almost all prosecutors who stay in office for lengthy terms wind up facing a familiar array of complaints – about cases lost, creeping arrogance, political gamesmanship. Robert M. Morgenthau, revered by many across his decades as Manhattan's top prosecutor, had his share of critics and embarrassments, the troubled prosecution of five teenagers for the rape of a woman in Central Park among them.
Some of the complaints about Hynes, then, fit that mold: He's been accused of hiring and firing people based on favoritism and political connections and he's been taken to task for some failed or underwhelming prosecutions. Even his once reliable base of support, the borough's Orthodox Jewish community, has seemed to split, some angered that Hynes has made a series of pedophilia cases against people in their ranks, others disappointed that he was late to the issue and overly lenient in his handling of the cases.
But Thompson, who served in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, has focused his criticism on the question of wrongful convictions and possible misconduct by prosecutors over the years in Hynes's office.
On the campaign trail Thompson, for instance, has cited withering criticism from two federal judges over the way one of Hynes's top prosecutors won a wrongful conviction in a high-profile murder case.
In the last several weeks, Thompson has gained endorsements from the Service Employees International Union, the Citizens Union, and several Brooklyn-based representatives in Congress.
Hynes has defended the work of his office, rejecting any claims that he permits or encourages misconduct. He has campaigned on what he asserts are his myriad novel and effective approaches to fighting crime.
Both the district attorney's office and Hynes's campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Little public polling has been done in the race. Turnout could play a role. And Hynes, whatever his arguable travails, has history on his side.
No incumbent district attorney has lost an election in any of New York's boroughs since 1955. A Brooklyn district attorney hasn't been unseated via the vote since 1911.
Here are some issues that may figure into the election's outcome.
Some of Hynes's campaign woes can be traced to the conduct of Michael Vecchione, the head of Hynes's Rackets Bureau. He's a polarizing figure who has drawn heavy criticism for his conduct in and out of the courtroom.
Two federal judges have lambasted Vecchione for withholding evidence and for his handling of several witnesses in a high-profile murder case.
Now the defendant, a Brooklyn man named Jabbar Collins who spent 16 years in prison, is suing the city for millions as part of a far-reaching wrongful conviction lawsuit. His lawyer, Manhattan-based attorney Joel Rudin, is attempting to make the case that misconduct in Hynes's office is so pervasive that Hynes must have actually condoned it.
Vecchione's career in the district attorney's office spans more than two decades. In 2003, the district attorney's office was forced to vacate the conviction of a man they suspected of being involved in at least three murders when a federal court agreed to hear allegations that Vecchione had withheld evidence in the man's trial.
In 2006, Vecchione tried to prosecute former FBI agent R. Lindley DeVecchio for helping arrange the murders of gangsters on behalf of mob boss Greg Scarpa. Hynes called it "the most stunning example of official corruption [he] had ever seen." But the case fell apart just days into trial when it became clear that Vecchione's chief witness was unstable and had given false testimony.
More recently, The New York Post reported that Vecchione instructed staff not to preserve exculpatory evidence in sex-trafficking cases during a training session in 2012.
Vecchione has denied all charges of misconduct, and he testified under oath that he did not remember the details of what took place at the training session for sex-trafficking cases in 2012.
Hynes has staunchly defended Vecchione, who continues to be one of the highest-paid prosecutors in the office. Earlier this year, Hynes allowed Vecchione to be a featured character in a CBS television show called Brooklyn DA.
ProPublica in 2013 has published a series of articles investigating prosecutorial misconduct and the lack of consequences for prosecutors who commit serious violations of the law. Vecchione was the subject of one of those articles.
Hynes's office did not respond to ProPublica's request for comment on Vecchione's history and its possible impact on Hynes's re-election effort.
50 Possibly Troubled Cases
Last spring, Hynes asked a judge to vacate the conviction of a man his office had mistakenly prosecuted for the murder of a Brooklyn rabbi. Hynes blamed a detective in the case for the wrongful conviction, and ordered his office to review 50 cases involving the detective.
The investigation has obvious implications for the now-retired detective, Louis Scarcella, who has publicly denied he ever did anything wrong. But Hynes's prosecutors had vouched for the detective's work in the cases, using the confessions he had allegedly won or the evidence he had produced to send people to prisons. Two of the prosecutors involved in Scarcella cases have gone on to work as New York State judges; four are now senior officials in the district attorney's office.
Thompson and other critics of Hynes pounced when it became clear that a 12-member panel of lawyers and judges appointed by Hynes to oversee the review of the 50 cases included three people who had donated to Hynes's campaign.
Hynes has said he is convinced of the panel's independence, and that the investigation will go where the evidence takes it.
The New York Times reported Friday that its examination of some of Scarcella's cases showed that prosecutors either ignored warning signs or made missteps of their own.
Hynes told the Times that the investigation so far had not turned up evidence that would require revisiting the propriety of a conviction. But he did not address the paper's findings about the conduct of his prosecutors.
Hynes's training procedures and office policies have also come under fire.
A Brooklyn man seeking to have his murder conviction overturned has accused Hynes's office of holding a witness against his will until he agreed to testify as prosecutors wanted in the case.
That case, which is now before a federal judge, has fueled an effort by Jabbar Collins's lawyer to establish that Hynes's office routinely detained and coerced witnesses in violation of the law. The accusation, made as part of Collins's lawsuit against Hynes and the city, deals with a powerful legal tool called the material witness order. The orders are supposed to be used only under rare circumstances, usually when prosecutors fear a potential witness might flee instead of testifying in court.
New York law requires that prosecutors bring any material witness straight to court.
But Collins's lawyer, along with several other defense lawyers are seeking to hold prosecutors accountable for abusing the orders, alleging that witnesses were never brought before a judge or provided with a lawyer, as the law requires.
Hynes has denied allegations that his prosecutors failed to abide by the law in their handling of witnesses.
Hynes's hiring and firing decisions have also proven fodder during the campaign, and Thompson has seized on them.
The New York Post reported this summer that Mark Posner, a lawyer in the office's powerful Rackets Bureau, was caught using his office phone to call prostitutes. The Post article said Posner was found out by his own colleagues, who were investigating a local prostitution ring.
Posner is the son of a longtime ally of Hynes, Charles Posner. The elder Posner had served as Hynes's liaison to Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community, and Hynes had later recommended him for a judgeship. Posner, who died in 2004, served as a State Supreme Court justice for nearly a decade.
Hynes did not fire Mark Posner after learning of his misconduct. Instead, he suspended him for 10 days and transferred him to the Early Case Assessment Bureau, a low-level desk where prosecutors analyze arrests and make judgments on what charges to pursue.
At the time Posner was caught, Brooklyn DA spokesman Jerry Schmetterer told the Post that Hynes acted as soon as he learned of Posner's conduct by suspending him, ordering him to seek counseling, and demoting him.
Posner didn't immediately respond to a voice message left at his home. And neither Hynes's office nor his campaign responded to questions from ProPublica.
In January 2012, Hynes hired a woman named Angel DiPietro to become an assistant district attorney. It was a hire with a backstory.
Eight years earlier, DiPietro was a witness in the murder case of Mark Fisher, a Fairfield University student-athlete in Prospect Park South. She was with Fisher and friends in Brooklyn the night he was killed. At the time, a spokesman for the police department told the New York Times that DiPietro demonstrated "a lack of full-hearted cooperation." Police Commissioner Ray Kelly himself described DiPietro and seven of her other friends as "uncooperative."
Eventually DiPietro testified at trial and two people she was with that night were found guilty of the murder.
DiPietro's father, a defense attorney in Brooklyn, had been a regular contributor to Hynes's political campaigns, and in the months after DiPietro was hired, he donated another $3,000 to Hynes's 2013 political campaign.
DiPietro, contacted by telephone, referred ProPublica to the spokesman for the district attorney's office. The spokesman did not respond to request for comment.
James DiPietro, Angel's father, did agree to an interview.
"I wish I could've given him more," DiPietro's father said of his donations to Hynes. He said that his daughter was first offered the job in 2010 and fully deserved it on her own merits. And he asserted that his daughter had in fact cooperated fully in the Fisher murder investigation.
In 1996 Hynes indicted a Brooklyn political gadfly named John O'Hara. The charge was modest: voting from his girlfriend's apartment, which was outside of his own election district. After three separate trials, O'Hara was found guilty, lost his law license, and was sentenced to community service.
O'Hara has always claimed that Hynes went after him because he'd run for city council and assembly seats against some of Hynes's allies.
Thirteen years later, in 2009, a grievance committee bolstered O'Hara's account. It restored his license, saying there were "grave doubts that Mr. O'Hara did anything that justified his criminal prosecution."
In 2012, The New York Times ran a stinging series of articles on how Hynes's office for years handled investigations of accused sexual predators in the Orthodox Jewish communities. The series established that Hynes had allowed many of the accusations to be handled by rabbinical courts rather than prosecuting the cases himself.
Hynes initially defended the way he handled the sex abuse cases, but eventually pledged reforms and began prosecuting them with more vigor.
Statistics: Posted by fruhmenschen — Thu Sep 12, 2013 1:12 am