Federal Judge Fines Gov't $600k for ImproperlyTaping Defense Lawyers

More prosecutorial misconduct, this time in Florida in a drug case. Prosecutors improperly taped the defendant's lawyers.

Accusing federal prosecutors of knowingly and repeatedly violating ethical guidelines in a high-profile narcotics trial, a Miami federal judge Thursday reprimanded multiple assistant U.S. attorneys who took part in the case -- and fined the federal government more than $600,000.

U.S. District Judge Alan Gold's harshly critical 50-page order takes the federal government to task for acting deceptively and ''in bad faith'' in the case of Miami Beach doctor Ali Shaygan, who was acquitted last month of 141 counts of illegally prescribing painkillers. The $601,795 fine will be paid to Shaygan as reimbursement for much of his legal fees and costs.


While prosecuting Shaygan, the U.S. attorney's office began a secret, undisclosed side investigation of Shaygan's legal team, citing a suspicion of witness tampering on the part of the defense.

No evidence surfaced that the defense team was manipulating witnesses. On the contrary, defense attorneys rejected bribery invitations floated on tape from government informants.

Prosecutors used their trial witnesses -- informants in the criminal case -- to tape the defense team. The lawyers did nothing wrong. But the prosecutors not only didn't disclose the illegal scheme, they called the witnesses at trial and didn't mention it.

The government falsely introduced those informants -- former patients of the doctor -- as impartial, neutral witnesses.

Jurors, and the judge presiding over the case, found out about the tape recordings by accident, when one of the informants blurted out their existence while testifying.

In addition to fining the U.S. $600,000:

[Judge] Gold formally reprimanded prosecutors Sean Cronin, Karen Gilbert and Andrea Hoffman and said he would send a copy of the order to the Florida Bar for its review.

The U.S. Attorney for Miami issued a statement:

''Our Office policy, which requires the prior approval of senior management before this type of witness tampering investigation is commenced, exists to prevent precisely this type of situation,'' spokeswoman Alicia Valle wrote. ``We regret that the policy was not followed, have already apologized to counsel, and have taken steps to ensure that this will not happen again.''

The fallout has already begun:

Gilbert, chief of the office's narcotics section, has voluntarily resigned; and Cronin, the lead prosecutor on the case, has requested a transfer out of the criminal division.

As for the wrongly accused doctor:

Shaygan had faced 20 years in prison if convicted because one patient died of a drug overdose.

The 141 criminal counts against Shaygan, Gold wrote, was itself a manifestation of prosecutors' vengeful approach to the case. As prosecutors bitterly sparred with Shaygan's defense team, prosecutor Cronin warned that a ''seismic shift'' would take place. All of a sudden the list of criminal counts against Shaygan grew from 26 to 141.

Update: From the 50 page ruling:

.... I enter a public reprimand against: (1) the United States Attorney and his senior staff members, for failure to exercise proper supervision over AUSA Karen Gilbert, the head of the Narcotics Section of the United States Attorney’s Office; (2) AUSA Gilbert and her deputies for acting with gross negligence with regard to the events which ensued, and (3) the two prosecutors assigned in this case, AUSA Sean Paul Cronin and Andrea G. Hoffman.

I conclude, without doubt, that AUSA Cronin, with the assistance of AUSA Hoffman, along with DEA Special Agent Christopher Wells, acted vexatiously and in bad faith in prosecuting Dr. Shaygan for events occurring after the original indictment was filed and by knowingly and willfully disobeying the orders of this Court. These lawyers are publically reprimanded and shall be sanctioned, as set forth in this Order.

< Friday Open Thread: Kidnapped and Held for Ransom | Prize: A Day With Bill Clinton or a Night at American Idol Finale >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    I have had the pleasure (none / 0) (#1)
    by CoralGables on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 11:57:39 PM EST
    of dealing with two of those involved in this controversy in the past. The Judge back when he was dabbling in Family Court and found him to be eminently fair, and one of the prosecutors who I also found to be on the up and up having known her on a personal basis.

    Odd to see these names from the past pop up on my screen this evening.