• June 13, 2017

    When the Villain Has a Badge

    In the 1980s and 1990s, Louis Scarcella was the best homicide detective in New York City.  In an era demanding law enforcement to be tough on crime, Scarcella, well-dressed and charismatic, made a name for himself by solving some of the most high-profile murders.  Scarcella charmed witnesses and juries and easily secured confessions and convictions.  Scarcella was said to be able to get things the other detectives couldn’t.  In 1990, one of these investigations led Scarcella to David Ranta, who was convicted for shooting holocaust survivor and Hasidic rabbi, Chaskel Werzberger—Mr. Ranta got a life sentence.  At the time, no one stopped to consider whether his investigations were too good to be true.  After all, the Brooklyn DA’s office needed to demonstrate they were doing something about crime and Scarcella was serving them murderer after murderer on a shiny silver platter.  With each conviction, the DA was one step closer to appeasing the public panic brought about by the crack epidemic plaguing the streets of New York.   Twenty years later, public attitude has somewhat shifted as there has been some focus on wrongful convictions and a push to reform the criminal justice system.  In response, in 2011, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office under Charles Hynes established its “Conviction Integrity Unit” (CIU) to review potentially problematic cases.  Many questions had surfaced surrounding several of Scarcella’s cases and the DA’s office announced it would review over fifty cases in which Scarcella played a chief role in the conviction.  So far, seven of these convictions have been overturned.  Scarcella manipulated the investigations to fit his narrative and send his suspects to prison, guilty or not. In 2013, David Ranta, after 23 years in prison, became the first of the Scarcella defendants freed.  The Brooklyn DA’s office concluded that Scarcella’s investigation did not add up, that Ranta did not belong behind bars, and asked a judge to release him.  Multiple convictions were then overturned.  As it turned out, Scarcella coerced or falsified confessions, and bribed or blackmailed witnesses to lie on the stand.  Some of these defendants said Scarcella beat them until they signed a confession, others that he manufactured it altogether.  Witnesses reported they were threatened with perjury, jail, and even losing their children, if they did not say what Scarcella told them to say.  Notably, Scarcella also relied on the testimony of one crack-riddled prostitute, Teresa Gomez, as his star witness in at least four different murder trials. Mr. Ranta was convicted despite a lack of physical evidence connecting him to the murder; his conviction stemmed instead from witness accounts and a confession, all of which since appear to have been coerced or plainly falsified by Scarcella.  An eyewitness testified that he was told by a detective—Scarcella was the lead detective on the case—to pick the man with “the big nose” out of a lineup, with Ranta being the only one fitting that description.  Two other witnesses admitted to explicitly lying in exchange for clemency in their own unrelated cases, and said that Scarcella had even accommodated them by having them leave jail to smoke crack and have sex with prostitutes in exchange for their testimony.  Mr. Ranta himself steadfastly maintained that Scarcella […]

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  • June 1, 2017

    A Face of Evil

    Massachusetts forensic chemist, Annie Dookhan, played God to advance her career.  As she sat in her lab and deliberately mishandled drug samples, she determined the fate of over twenty thousand lives.  Dookhan carelessly and selfishly claimed to be “the best chemist on staff,” leaving little regard for the destruction she left in her wake.  Not only did she send innocent men and women to jail by tainting evidence—a gross injustice for which the Boston DA’s offices refuse to take responsibility—but, she also cost taxpayers millions of dollars to mop up the shattered pieces of the criminal justice system that she broke. Dookhan pleaded guilty to 27 counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and tampering with evidence.  She marked tests positive without properly testing them, mixed samples to create positive tests, and forged signatures to cover up inconsistent results.  Dookhan was known as Superwoman by her colleagues, yet that nickname couldn’t be further from what she turned out to be.  In the comics, Superwoman saved lives, Dookhan, however, destroyed the lives of over twenty thousand people. Shockingly, Dookhan was sentenced to only 3 years in prison, a sentence shorter than many sentences issued to the innocent people that were wrongfully convicted due to her complete neglect for human life and lack of respect for the criminal justice system.  Dookhan should have been punished with a sentence proportionate to the crimes she committed, yet she wasn’t. Although more than 20,000 cases, around 95%, of the 24,000 tainted by Dookhan have been dismissed, the Boston DA’s offices continue to defend the original convictions.  As quoted in The New York Times, a spokesman for one of the Boston DAs, Daniel Conley, claimed that these convictions were not wrongful, but were rather “cases that could be appealed on procedural grounds.” If the ACLU had not stepped in and filed a lawsuit, Bridgeman v. DA of Suffolk County, most of the “Dookhan defendants” wouldn’t have filed for post-conviction relief.  Before the suit, less than 1,200 of these defendants had filed for such relief. In its defense of this suit, the DA proclaimed that because most of the Dookhan defendants’ convictions resulted from guilty pleas, they were surely guilty of something and, therefore, to dismiss such a high volume of cases would lead to “chaos.”  The DA demonstrated a cavalier indifference to due process and insulted our criminal justice system, which is predicated on innocent until proven guilty.  The “chaos” of this situation does not stem from the rightful dismissal of these 20,000 cases, but is due instead to the deleterious effect that Dookhan’s ego had on the lives of these 20,000 wrongfully convicted individuals. The government, which has the power to strip people of their liberty, must be held to the highest standard of integrity.  Those who take advantage of their position should be punished to the degree of the damage they imposed.  Superwoman Dookhan, playing God, ruined 20,000 lives and should have been punished more severely and a contrite attitude by the DA would go a long way toward repairing the trust between the public and law enforcement.

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  • May 23, 2017

    Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, and the Endangered Species Known as Men

    Happy May!   With the recent firing of Bill O’Reilly, the sordid tales of Bill Cosby and the “punishment” of the Stanford swimmer, the media has drawn massive attention to those accused of sexual misconduct and painted a terrible picture of these men, perhaps justifiably.  We here at Varghese & Associates wish, however, to highlight the plight of the many men whose lives have been devastated by false allegations of sexual misconduct.  Unless they have us defending them, these men are at risk of becoming an endangered species.  We highlight the problems men face by telling you about how we recently prevented the arrest of a client accused of sexual assault who we shall call “John.”  As you read this, remember that John could be your son, your brother, or your friend.     John is a successful, single man in his early 30’s.  John met a young woman about his age through his participation in a ballroom dancing league here in the City and they began a three-night sexual relationship in December.  Despite never calling her his “girlfriend,” the woman began texting John at all hours of the night.  One night, she showed up at his apartment unannounced at 3 am. John shared the apartment with two female roommates. After the woman woke everyone up by repeatedly ringing the bell, John’s roommates told her to leave John alone or they would call the police.  After that episode, he made it clear to the woman that he never wanted to see her again.   Despite ending their “relationship,” the woman continued to text him telling John of her unyielding affection for him.  When they would run into each other at ballroom dancing events, she made it extremely uncomfortable for him.  At one event, she bumped into him, spilling wine all over his shirt.  At another one, she followed John into the men’s room screaming at him over how he had broken her heart. At a third, when John wanted to leave after seeing her, she followed him for several blocks until he eluded her by running into a subway station. Finally, John, despite loving ballroom dancing, stopped attending these events.   The woman then took to disparaging him on Facebook, including on their group ballroom dancing page.  On her personal Facebook page, she started tagging John and linking him to articles about rape, including a New York Times article called “When a Rapist’s Weapon is a Drug.”   After he didn’t respond, she sought a restraining order in New York County Family Court against him.  In her petition, she claimed that John had raped her multiple times and listed dates of these alleged rapes.  On Facebook, she posted pictures of her inside the Family Court along with a photo of her petition.   You may ask why Family Court?  Several years ago, New York State legislators expanded the jurisdiction of the Family Court to allow those who had been in an “intimate relationship” to file for orders of protection aka restraining orders. Despite our client’s innocence, his reputation suffered due to her Facebook posts, and her public berating of him at the ballroom […]

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  • April 7, 2017

    Prosecutor Pleads Guilty To Conducting Illegal Wiretaps In Bizarre Love Triangle

    Every now and then I read something that makes my head shake. This is one of them. Here, a (now former) prosecutor, Tara Lenich, formerly of the Brooklyn DA’s Office, who took an oath to uphold the Constitution, ran illegal wiretaps so she could spy on the other two parts of her bizarre love triangle, another prosecutor and a detective. Fortunately, she was caught, and this week she pleaded guilty to the above in Brooklyn federal court. Photo Credit: New York Law Journal Reading about this reminds me of Lord Acton’s famous quotation which has never rung truer: “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In our society, there are no actors closer to absolute power than prosecutors. While prosecutors are part of the executive branch of government, there are few checks on their power—in fact, there are more on the president himself. This prosecutor forged a judge’s signature because she couldn’t compel the phone company to do the wiretap without such a signature because that is what’s required by Title III. Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, also known as the “Wiretap Act”: 1) prohibits the unauthorized, nonconsensual interception of “wire, oral, or electronic communications” by government agencies as well as private parties; 2) establishes procedures for obtaining warrants to authorize wiretapping by government officials; and 3) regulates the disclosure and use of authorized intercepted communications by investigative and law enforcement officers. According to the DOJ, “Congress passed Title III in response to congressional investigations and published studies that found extensive wiretapping had been conducted by government agencies and private individuals without the consent of the parties or legal sanction. Congress found that the contents of these tapped conversations and the evidence derived from them were being used by government and private parties as evidence in court and administrative proceedings.” Title III was enacted to prevent wiretap above and misuse by government officials. Here, this prosecutor circumvented Title III and used her absolute power to conduct illegal wiretaps. She is a disgrace to the criminal justice system, an insult to all ethical prosecutors, and her actions further erode trust in our system of government. I hope her time in prison will serve as a deterrent to other prosecutors who choose to play fast and loose with the 4th Amendment.

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