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US prosecutors’ bid to bury evidence angered judges

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In March, Manhattan federal prosecutors said they achieved a major victory in the government’s fight to enforce sanctions against Iran when a jury convicted an Iranian accused of illegally funneling more than $ 115 million to his family business.

Within months, however, the case collapsed and prosecutors asked the judge to dismiss the charges against the man, Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, after acknowledging problems with the way they handed over the evidence to defense.

In one case, a prosecutor offered a colleague to bury a document that should have been provided to the defense. The judge in charge of the case quickly quashed the conviction and opened his own investigation.

In a highly unusual ruling on Wednesday, Federal District Court judge Alison J. Nathan excoriated the government for its handling of the case and also targeted the bureaus management for failing to unequivocally condemn the inappropriate actions and communications by these prosecutors. .

Judge Nathan cited the office’s admission that he repeatedly violated his obligations to disclose evidence to the defense, made a false statement in court and other errors.

The multiple issues that have arisen throughout this lawsuit and which may well have gone unnoticed in countless others demand a coordinated and systemic response from the highest levels of leadership within the United States Attorneys Office for the District. southern New York, wrote the judge. , using the official name of the offices.

Judge Nathan paid close attention to how, after prosecutors discovered the document that should have been shared with the defense, they spent nearly 20 hours strategizing on how best to return it, and one prosecutor suggested to another to bury the evidence along with other previously leaked documents.

That’s exactly what they did, the judge wrote, concealing his disclosure.

The opinion came at a sensitive time for the office, which is known for its fierce independence and was once described as a springboard for the best and the brightest laws. Its alumni went on to become FBI directors, New York police commissioners, a United States attorney general, Supreme Court justices, and partners in major New York law firms.

The office has also investigated some of President Trump’s close associates, including in connection with an ongoing investigation involving his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, who once ran the office and has denied any wrongdoing. He successfully sued others, like Michael D. Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and fixer.

In June, President Trump abruptly ousted Geoffrey S. Berman, the American lawyer at the time, in an measure widely seen as an effort by the Trump administration to curb office independence; Mr. Bermans’ principal assistant, Audrey Strauss, has been appointed to lead the office on an interim basis.

Stephen Gillers, professor of legal ethics at New York University School of Law, said of Judge Nathan’s opinion on Wednesday: This is an incredibly disheartening autopsy on the job the country’s first prosecutor’s office.

Professor Gillers said the case suggested problems with how prosecutors comply with a landmark 1963 Supreme Court ruling Brady v. Maryland which required them to provide evidence that could help a accused, may be more prevalent than we think.

If even this office can be so seriously criticized for its failure to honor Brady, he said, then one wonders what less esteemed offices can do.

A spokesperson for Ms Strausss’ office declined to comment on Wednesday. In a letter to the court in July, after conducting its own investigation, the office wrote: We do not believe that any of the lawyers involved in this case acted in bad faith or intentionally withheld exculpatory information.

But the prosecutor’s office wrote that much was discovered or disclosed far too late, and the office revealed the internal communication in which the prosecutor suggested burying the particular document, claiming that the manner in which it was disclosed was problematic.

The office praised Mr Sadrs’ conviction, saying in March that it showed that US economic sanctions against Iran were real and that violators would be exposed and prosecuted.

According to the government, Sadr had created a network of shell companies and bank accounts to mask Iranian trade ties in Venezuela and to evade US sanctions.

Mr Sadrs’ attorneys, Reid H. Weingarten and Brian M. Heberlig, on Wednesday said in a statement that Judge Nathan’s opinion had rightly called upon prosecutors for repeatedly breaching their disclosure obligations and private Mr. Sadr for a fair trial.

Had prosecutors revealed the real facts, the court recognized the trial could have been avoided altogether, they said. We are proud to have represented Mr. Sadr, an honest businessman and patriotic American immigrant who did not deserve the mistreatment he received from the United States government in this matter.

The judge urged the Justice Ministry’s Professional Accountability Office to investigate the government’s actions in the case. She added that the file before her did not conclusively establish that prosecutors acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the court, and indicated that she would investigate further.

Judge Nathan also ordered prosecutors involved in the case and their supervisors to answer a series of questions about the circumstances surrounding the document a prosecutor had proposed to bury, and she said she would then determine whether a hearing on the case was necessary.

And she ordered Ms Strauss to ensure that all prosecutors in her office read her opinion within a week.

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