Sunday, September 28, 2008

Court Rules Prosecutors Withheld Evidence in Rowland Related Case

The Spadoni case has been making its way through the judicial grinder for more than four years.

The lede to an early 2004 New York Times story reads:

HARTFORD, April 12 - A lawyer convicted last summer of giving a $2 million bribe to Paul J. Silvester, former state treasurer, in exchange for a contract for his company to manage Connecticut's pension fund is seeking a new trial, claiming that the government misled his defense team and the jury.”

Silvester is, of course, the canary whose chirping brought down the Rowland administration.

In 2004, Spadoni’s defense attorneys were claiming, according to the Times’report, that prosecutors had mislead the jury when they said Silvester, the star witness in the bribery case against Spadoni, had admitted his role in bribing Spadoni and was being punished for it.

On the contrary, Spadoni’s attorneys claimed, “Mr. Silvester never pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe in the case involving Triumph Capital Group, a Boston investment firm for which Mr. Spadoni served as general counsel.”

According to a recent story filed by Jon Lender, a Hartford Courant reporter who covered corruption in the Rowland administration, the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York has unceremoniously thrown out Spadoni’s earlier conviction.

At first blush, it seems that the prosecutors may have presented tainted evidence to the jury that convicted Spadoni.

According to Lender’s story:

“Spadoni was accused of bribing former state Treasurer Paul Silvester to invest $200 million of state pension money with Boston-based Triumph Capital Group, for which Spadoni served as general counsel.

“Silvester, treasurer from July 1997 to January 1999, pleaded guilty in late 1999 to corruption charges involving bribes and kickbacks in connection with state pension fund investments. He cooperated with federal prosecutors in cases against others and served three years in prison.

“The Spadoni appeal focused on notes Silvester made for his attorneys in 1999 about corrupt activities by himself and others. His lawyers used them as a reference in telling prosecutors what Silvester could testify about if they agreed to a plea bargain.

“The notes characterized the actions of Spadoni in different language — and a better light — than in Silvester's later testimony. Those notes were never turned over to federal authorities by Silvester's attorneys. But an FBI agent at the time, Charles Urso, made his own notes, which accurately reflected Silvester's notations as relayed by the lawyers.”

Federal prosecutors, however, never made Urso’s notes available to Spadoni’s attorneys. Had they done so, the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, Spadoni’s attorneys would have been able to use the notes to suggest to the jury that convicted him that "Spadoni had declined to make payments that amounted to a bribe. By suppressing Urso's notes ... the government deprived Spadoni of exculpatory evidence going to the core of its bribery case against him.”

Or to put it in less polite terms, federal prosecutors had through their strategic omissions created a fictitious series of events that persuaded a jury to send Spadoni to jail for three years. Spadoni has been out on bail pending his appeal and re-trial. The appeals court reversed Spadoni's convictions on charges of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud, sending those charges back to federal court in Connecticut for a new trial, while ordering a new sentencing on an obstruction of justice conviction.

The charges thrown out by the appeals court are often found in cases prosecuted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a piece of legislation that was designed to be used in cases involving drug trafficking and mob activity. When prosecutors used RICO legislation to torment abortion protestors, the architect of the legislation said that RICO should never be used in the prosecution of political crimes.

The appellate court’s decision raises important unanswered questions: Are there other cases in Connecticut of a like kind in which prosecutors, using RICO legislation, have withheld exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys? Is this the nose of some as yet hidden camel? If prosecutors in this particular case manipulated information that should by law have been shared with the defense, have they done the same in other prosecutions connected with the Silvester case? Is this a domino that will knock down other legal dominoes in Rowland related prosecutions? These are questions it would be hazardous in good conscience to ignore.
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