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Legal issues behind corruption probe: A ‘subject’ is not a ‘target’

May 9, 2013 By Charisma L. Miller Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Politics are often wrought with corruption and scandal. Over the past year, scandal has marred many Brooklyn politicians who have been charged with various forms of political corruption schemes.

Assemblyman Vito Lopez has been accused of sexually harassing female staffers. While Lopez, who represents northern Brooklyn, denies the accusations, the state Assembly approved a $103,000 settlement to settle some of the harassment claims.   

Another Assemblyman, William Boyland, was hit with federal mail-fraud charges for allegedly submitting fraudulent travel vouchers. And just this month, state Senator John Sampson was charged with embezzlement, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

As Brooklyn residents grapple with the list of suspected corrupt officials who have sworn to represent Brooklyn’s interests, Brooklyn may have to brace itself for an expanded list of names. Seven New York elected officials, two of whom are from Brooklyn, were secretly recorded as part of a larger corruption investigation conducted by the federal government.

State Senators Eric Adams, Ruth Hassel-Thompson, Jose Peralta and Velmanette Montgomery; City Council Member Ruben Wills; former political consultant Melvin Lowe; and Curtis Taylor, a former press advisor, were secretly recorded by former State Senator Shirley Huntley. Huntley pleaded guilty to embezzlement and faces up to two years in prison.

Adams, a Brooklyn Democrat, is considered the top contender for Brooklyn borough president.  A former captain in the New York Police Department, Adams is an outspoken critic of the department’s stop, question and frisk policy, and testified recently in a federal trial challenging the tactic.

Adams said he had not been contacted about any investigation. “I believe deeply in transparency and the pursuit of justice — and that is why I committed 20 years of my life to law enforcement,” he said. “I am more than willing to help with any investigation.”

It is unclear who is the target and who is merely a subject of this corruption investigation.

“There is a difference,” Brooklyn attorney Howard Schwartz told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “The subject of an investigation is someone who may or may not be involved in criminal activity. The target, on the other hand, is the person or persons that the investigators are after.”  

When an individual is the target of an investigation, “law enforcement officials have already made the determination said person has committed a crime and are seeking evidence to support an indictment,” Schwartz explained.

Defending a corruption case has its challenges, noted Schwartz. “The main challenge is in the discovery phase; finding out what the government has against your client.” Once discovery is complete, Schwartz advises that the credibility of the wiretap be questioned. “Check the quality of the tapes. Sometimes the wiretap technology is old, and the audio recorded is unintelligible,” he says.

Schwartz also advises that the content recorded be scrutinized.

“A wiretap can be challenged if what is recorded on the tape is not an accurate portrayal,” he said. “A prudent lawyer would make note of any audio that is taken out of context.”

In addition to the tapes’ audio, the credibility of the person wearing the wire should be challenged, Schwartz advised. “A lot of these corruption cases hinge on the credibility of witnesses. If there is no paper trail [i.e., financial records, email exchanges], then the success of the government’s case lays primarily on witness testimony.”

Of the above-named politicians secretly recorded by Huntley, only three yielded evidence “useful to law enforcement authorities,” the government revealed in court filings.

Montgomery, a civil rights activist from Brooklyn, did not immediately return messages from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle seeking comment.

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