DA Vance: 3 Lawyers and A Paralegal Allegedly Bribed To Steer Clients

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DA Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., has announced the indictment of three defense attorneys and a paralegal for bribing public officials to steer potential clients to them.

Jae Lee, 41, Jose Nunez, 47, Dwane Smith, 56, and Benjamin Yu, 36, are charged in New York State Supreme Court with Bribery in the Second and Third Degrees, Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, and Rewarding Official Misconduct in the Second Degree.

“These lawyers are accused of bribing a court employee to steer clients to them, behavior that broke the lawyers’ oaths and undermined the integrity of our court system,” said Vance. “The criminal justice system should be built on an even playing field – not one where insiders abuse their positions for profit. I thank our partners in this investigation, and the members of my Office’s Public Corruption Unit, which proactively investigates corruption at all levels – from uniformed officers to elected officials to courthouse staff.”

According to documents filed in court and statements made on the record in court, Lee, Nunez, Smith, and Yu are charged with bribing a court employee with the New York City Criminal Justice Agency (“CJA”) to persuade arrestees to retain their services.

Typically, after an individual is arrested, he or she is taken to the local precinct, and from there, to Central Booking. A defendant may, by law, wait up to 24 hours in holding before an arraignment, though backlog in the arraignment parts can cause a delay.

CJA is tasked with assisting courts and the City of New York with reducing unnecessary holding time by pre-screening defendants. This includes interviewing arrestees awaiting arraignment to determine their ties to the community, and making recommendations to the Court based on the likelihood that they will return if released on bail.

In the alleged scheme, under the direction of the defendants, the CJA employee instead used these interviews to determine which arrestees were likely to be able to afford to retain a private attorney who could expedite their arraignment.

As charged in the first indictment, from August 2013 through September 2014, the CJA employee texted Smith an arrestee’s information following an interview, and then used his position within the court system to persuade the arrestees to hire Smith, promising a shorter holding period. Smith is charged with paying the CJA employee directly on a case-by-case basis in sums ranging from $200 to $1,000 develop the profiles, recommend arrestees, and steer them to Smith.

Additionally, according to the second indictment, from September 2013 through September 2014, the CJA employee would similarly text Nunez, a paralegal for Lee and Yu, an arrestee’s information following an interview, and then persuade the arrestees to hire Yu or Lee, promising a shorter holding period.

Nunez is charged with paying the CJA employee on behalf of Yu and Lee between $200 and $1,000 each week to develop the profiles, recommend arrestees, and steer them to the defendants.

Assistant District Attorney Eli Cherkasky handled the investigation of this case under the supervision of Assistant District Attorneys Charles Linehan, Deputy Chief of the Public Corruption Unit, Luke Rettler, Chief of the Public Corruption Unit, and Executive Assistant District Attorney David Szuchman, Chief of the Investigation Division.

Assistant Chief Rackets Investigator Michael Wigdor, Supervising Rackets Investigator Alexander Farrugia, Senior Rackets Investigators Patrick O’Brien and Edward Johnson, and Deputy Chief Investigator Santiago Batista assisted with the investigation under the supervision of Chief Investigator Walter Alexander. Investigative Analyst Sam Burns also assisted with the case.

DA Vance thanked Inspector General Sherrill Spatz of the Office of Court Administration’s Office of the Inspector General, as well as the New York City Criminal Justice Agency for their cooperation.

 

 

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