Courageous Defense, Creative Solutions, Results. | (212) 529-3925

Terrorists Should Be Read Their Miranda Rights, Too

November 16, 2017

Terrorists are not enemy combatants. To treat them as such is to dignify them as the soldiers they believe themselves to be, part of an entity, a state, at war with American ideals and America itself. America is not at war with the religion of Islam, and to perpetuate that notion is to exacerbate the racial and cultural rifts that plague our society and incentivize the radicals that carry out these attacks. We cannot buy into the rhetoric of a global religious war, that it is us against them, and sacrifice the very principles and ideals that serve as the very foundation of our nation. If we have to abandon our values, our commitment to freedom and fairness, then we might as well give up because we are letting the terrorists win. In the wake of the horrendous attack in New York City on October 31st, Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, along with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, called for the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, to be labelled and held as an enemy combatant. To their disappointment, the Trump administration instead formally charged him under federal criminal law. This is an important distinction. When someone is held as an enemy combatant, they are not afforded the same rights as an ordinary citizen charged with, or suspected of, a crime. An enemy combatant does not need to be formally charged and is therefore not read his or her Miranda rights and offered those protections.  Advocates of this method believe that reading a suspected terrorist his Miranda rights, and therefore allowing him to invoke his right to an attorney, as well as to remain silent, will impede the United States from properly interrogating the subject and gathering potentially beneficial information on other terrorist activities. The Bush Administration, after the attacks in 2001, invoked the policy of holding suspected terrorists as enemy combatants as part of the “war on terror” against al Qaeda. With this policy, President Bush stretched the definition of “war” and manipulated it to his agenda. By labeling the hostility with al Qaeda as a “war” within the larger context of the “War on Terror,” he was able to claim that domestic criminal law would not suffice for proper prosecution of al Qaeda’s agents, who we call “terrorists,” while also stating that this was a special type of war and therefore did not adhere to the rules set by the Geneva Convention of 1949. The legality of holding suspected terrorists affiliated with ISIS, as Saipov is, as enemy combatants is further questionable because ISIS, unlike al Qaeda, is not necessarily covered by the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Military Force, which was authorized to be carried out exclusively against those involved with the 9/11 attacks and any “associated forces.” ISIS was not associated with al-Qaeda and had no part in the 9/11 attack. This policy, however, of holding suspected terrorists as enemy combatants, stayed largely in place until the Obama administration strayed from it in 2010, choosing to drop the term “enemy combatant,” yet still maintaining the U.S.’s right to detain terrorism suspects related to the 9/11 attacks without […]

Read more

Donald Trump and Corporate Greed– Vinoo Varghese Leads CLE Webinar Discussion

August 7, 2017

In the first seven months of his presidency, Donald Trump has created a great deal of uncertainty about the trajectory of our country by undoing or attempting to undo many Obama administration policies. One policy President Trump was particularly vocal about dealt with the regulation of businesses, which he believed were being treated “unfairly.” He promised a more “business-friendly” approach. Will this promise lead to a reduction in corporate corruption prosecution after the emphasis placed on such during the Obama administration? The Knowledge Group  has asked our principal, Vinoo Varghese, to share his views in a live CLE webinar called “Trump Administration’s Priorities on Corporate Wrongdoings: What You Need to Know.” Vinoo will discuss U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ history with corporate prosecution, criminal penalties for corporate greed, provide historical context to enforcement, and consider likely trends under Trump. Tune into the webcast Tuesday, August 8th at 1:00 PM EST by clicking HERE. Registration is free for the first 30 guests with code: Varghese146562. After that, there will be a reduced registration fee of $25. For CLE credit, the price is $49.  The description for the webcast is as follows: Since the issuance of the Yates Memo in late 2015, the US Department of Justice has pursued a policy of seeking accountability from individuals who perpetrate corporate wrongdoing.  It requires that any company under investigation must deliver all proof of wrongdoing by its employees to receive credit for cooperation.  The DOJ policy thus added a heavy burden to any corporation that intends to use an internal investigation as support for leniency or a settlement.  With the avowedly business-friendly Trump administration comes uncertainty over how priorities will change under the new attorney general and reconstituted DOJ staff. In this one-hour live webcast, a panel of thought leaders brought together by The Knowledge Group will discuss the current state of Yates Memo enforcement as it affects inside counsel and internal compliance officers, and further how the preferences of the current administration may translate into refocusing or revision of DOJ policy.  Key Topics discussed will include: Yates Memo Overview Individual Accountability Disclosure Requirements Cooperation Credit Criminal/Civil Liability Enforcement Trends For more information, please visit The Knowledge Group’s website, call 1.800.578.4370, or email info@theknowledgegroup.org.  

Read more

Kevin Spacey is Clarence Darrow: What We Can Learn From the “Attorney for the Damned”

June 27, 2017

  To be an effective criminal defense counsel, an attorney must be prepared to be demanding, outrageous, irreverent, blasphemous, a rogue, a renegade, and a hated, isolated, and lonely person – few love a spokesman for the despised and the damned. These words of Clarence Darrow (1857 – 1938), America’s most famous trial lawyer, transcend time.  The challenges Darrow confronted in and outside the courtroom over 100 years ago are the same for criminal defense attorneys today. Dubbed the “attorney for the damned,” Darrow represented the innocent and the depraved, the wealthy and the penniless, all the way defending each the same because he believed that every human life was worth saving.  His efforts helped spare 102 defendants the death penalty.  Darrow pleaded with judges and jurors that only by overcoming hate with love and by employing logic and reason instead of contempt and prejudice, could we hope to progress as a society and fulfill our human potential for greatness. Darrow did not claim to be righteous or wise; he was aware of his own misgivings, believing he, like all men, were capable of doing both well and ill.  He was agnostic, believing the fallibility of human knowledge prevented the certainty of God’s existence.  That said, his firm belief in human mortality and the indivisible nature of the human spirit fueled his relentless efforts to bring civilization to a higher level and distinguished his place in American history as a formidable champion for life. Just over a week ago, our team at Varghese & Associates had the privilege of experiencing Kevin Spacey bring Darrow’s story to life in a one-man show performed in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Tennis Center in Queens.  For 90 minutes, Spacey breathtakingly recounted some of Darrow’s most renowned cases and delivered bits from the great speeches Darrow used to win over the hearts and minds of juries, judges, and the public. Spacey first walked us through Darrow’s representation of Eugene V. Debs, arrested on conspiracy charges for organizing the American Railway Union strike in 1893.  Darrow delivered a pointed, principled description of the restrictive, oppressive nature of the conspiracy statute that unfortunately still holds true today: Conspiracy from the days of tyranny in England down to the day the railroads use it as a club, has been the favorite weapon of every tyrant. It is an effort to punish the crime of thought. If there are still any citizens interested in protecting human liberty, let them study the conspiracy laws of the United States which have grown until today no one’s liberty is safe…This is not the first time that evil men—men who are themselves criminals—have conspired to use the law for the purpose of bringing righteous ones to death or jail! Darrow said Debs’ case would be an historic one, serving as a reminder that the law, simply because it is written, is not necessarily just.  Darrow believed that citizens needed to fight to preserve liberty against those who would infringe upon it. Fighting to preserve liberty is the work of a criminal defense lawyer and so is the necessity of sometimes defending […]

Read more

When the Villain Has a Badge

June 13, 2017

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 […]

Read more

A Face of Evil

June 1, 2017

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.

Read more

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

May 23, 2017

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 […]

Read more

Prosecutor Pleads Guilty To Conducting Illegal Wiretaps In Bizarre Love Triangle

April 7, 2017

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.

Read more

Preet Bharara’s Spectacular Firing

March 20, 2017

(Photo: Getty Images) VINOO VARGHESE is a criminal defense attorney and a former prosecutor who defended multiple high-profile cases against Preet Bharara. Arrogant. For once, I’m not referring to our 45th President, but instead to Preet Bharara, the man referred to as the “Sheriff of Wall Street” and the “Showman Prosecutor.” He made a spectacle out of the fact that he was fired—though it is normal for a new president to fire sitting US Attorneys. President Clinton did this, so did President (W.) Bush, and so did President Obama. To many, Bharara is a hero for not resigning and instead demanding to be fired. Bharara isn’t a hero, unlike Sally Yates, who President Trump fired because she refused to follow his patently unconstitutional travel ban. Bharara’s demand to be fired while everyone else submitted their resignations was classic Bharara—the Showman. The media classified Bharara’s firing as another example of this President’s awful judgment (which there are plenty)—but this was just normal politics. The US Attorney is an “at-will” job—serving at the will of the sitting president. Here, even if President-Elect Trump had asked him to stay on—President Trump’s will changed—too bad for Bharara but good for the public. Bharara seemed to forget that he worked at-will or simply chose to ignore it since he believed himself bigger than the position he held for nine years. Many of us who believe in criminal justice will not miss Bharara. While he was a media darling, to others, like me, who defended those he chose to go after, he was just a bully. He presided over an office with unlimited resources that could pick and choose his targets with impunity. His press conferences were spectacles, by which he polluted jury pools and created hostile atmospheres, making it nearly impossible for anyone accused to receive a fair trial. He was indeed a Showman. For example, in one such press conference, Bharara, the Showman, claimed that a former client of mine, Rengan Rajaratnam, who he accused of insider trading, shared the same DNA for criminality as his previously convicted brother, Raj Rajaratnam. Bharara had no problem claiming Rengan was predisposed to committing criminal acts, but where was Bharara’s apology to Rengan when a jury found him not guilty of all charges? Don’t hold your breath—it didn’t come. Arrogant. Later, Bharara called Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, who presided over Rengan’s acquittal, “‘the worst federal judge’ he’d ever encountered.” Arrogant. Sore loser. Another federal judge, Richard Sullivan, questioned whether one of Bharara’s bombastic press conferences served any meaningful law enforcement purpose. In this one, Bharara disparaged another former client of mine, NYC Councilman Dan Halloran. Judge Sullivan said Bharara’s comments announcing Dan’s arrest “sound[ed] like the theme from Mighty Mouse.” “This seems to be designed for tabloid consumption,” Judge Sullivan said, adding, “there should be a question asked that is that appropriate at the preconviction stage.” The judge harkened back to his days as an assistant U.S. attorney, saying there was a time when prosecutors would just state what the charges were and not editorialize on the matter. Bharara had called Dan the “quarterback” of a “smorgasbord […]

Read more

A Christmas Story: Our American Client Freed From Brazilian Prison

December 21, 2016

Happy Holidays! We are thrilled to announce that we were able to help free our client — just in time for Christmas and the New Year! After serving over three brutal years in prison, mostly in Brazil awaiting extradition to the United States, we were able to show a Manhattan federal judge why she should give him time served. Our client, an American citizen, had been living and working in Brazil for some time with his wife. While there, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York obtained through the State Department an extradition warrant for him to face financial crimes charges. While awaiting extradition, the Brazilian federal police incarcerated him, and the Brazilian court system held him for nearly three years. Our client wasn’t fighting extradition, but instead was left in diplomatic limbo as the American government squabbled with the Brazilian government over the extradition of our client. Vinoo Varghese, our principal, visited our client at the São Paulo Polícia Federal Jail and met with him to prepare for his defense in New York federal court. While waiting to be extradited, our client endured horrifying living conditions such as freezing temperatures in his cell, solitary confinement 23/24 hours a day, spoiled food, and fierce intimidation by both prison staff and gangs. He suffered severe insomnia, drastic weight loss and lived in constant fear of death. Weekly visits from his loving wife were his only solace. Our client returned to the United States a shell of his previous self, emaciated, and timid. Yet, the battle wasn’t over. He still faced up to another 17 years in jail, but we believed that he shouldn’t be incarcerated another day. So, we put together a sentencing mitigation package that the federal prosecutor said was the best he had ever seen. This package contained letters from numerous friends, colleagues, family members, and others including a Naval Officer, who came and spoke on our client’s behalf at the sentencing hearing. We also submitted reports from Human Rights Watch and The Economist about the deplorable conditions of Brazilian prisons. We were able to convince the judge that our client had suffered enough and she ordered him released and sentenced him to time served. A short while later, he was finally reunited with his wife, just in time for Christmas and the New Year. We are elated that our client is now able to resume his life with his wife as a free man. Our client embracing his wife as a newly freed man! Jailhouse in São Paulo, Brazil where Vinoo visited our client From the Team.

Read more