A federal judge in New York is urging the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility to conduct a review into the US attorney’s office in Manhattan’s handling of the prosecution of an Iranian businessman accused of violating US sanctions laws due to the “systemic nature of the errors and misconduct that occurred in this case.”
The decision is the latest in a months-long saga that has resulted in a stunning rebuke of one of the most preeminent prosecutor offices in the country and raised concerns about whether defendants in criminal cases are receiving evidence that might help or exonerate them.
Judge Alison Nathan said she did not find that any individual prosecutors knowingly withheld exculpatory evidence or intentionally misled the court, but she was urging the review in Washington in hopes it “will ensure that the Government’s errors in this case are not repeated.” She added that even in a recent review of documents prosecutors “astonishingly” reported another “failure of disclosure in this case related to the FBI’s review of raw state search-warrant returns.”
The judge said she would also make public prosecutor declarations, exhibits and letters, stating, “The prosecutorial misconduct in this case is of exceptional public interest, bearing both on the fair administration of justice for criminal defendants and the efficacious prosecution of violations of federal law.”
Still, the judge said that she remains convinced that the failures in the case “represent grave derelictions of prosecutorial responsibility.”
Nathan excoriated prosecutors in September when she found systemic failures by prosecutors who failed to turn over exculpatory evidence and misused search-warrant returns in the case against Iranian businessman Ali Nejad. When one prosecutor came across a document it should have turned over to Nejad’s defense team, the prosecutor proposed to a colleague that they “bury” it. The case against Nejad was ultimately dropped after the errors came to light.
The judge ordered all prosecutors in the US attorney’s office to sign an order reflecting that they understood their obligations to turn over materials to defendants.
Numerous defendants, including former associates of Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend and alleged associate of sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, have since raised questions about whether they are receiving materials in a timely matter. Parnas and Maxwell have both pleaded not guilty.
The US attorney’s office declined to comment to CNN.
In an October letter addressed to a different judge overseeing a different case where there was a delay in turning over documents, US attorney Audrey Strauss said the office had made policy changes, including an expanded review of agency case files and more “robust” written memorialization.
“We believe that our corrective actions have reduced the possibility that future prosecutions will suffer from the issues that arose in this case, and that our commitment to assessing and implementing additional improvements will further mitigate that risk. As we strive to avoid any issues, we are also mindful that even conscientious and hard-working prosecutors and agents can make mistakes,” Strauss wrote at the time.
“When such problems do arise, the Court should expect our (assistant US attorneys) to disclose them promptly and work diligently to fix them—and the Office to do its part to identify and address the errors’ root causes. Our responsibilities require nothing less,” Strauss wrote.