Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Indicted on Conspiracy, Obstruction, and Perjury Charges Related to Trial Conduct

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino was indicted on conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury charges related to his conduct as lead trial counsel in the so-called "Detroit Terrorism Trial" in which two defendants were convicted on terrorism charges only to have the government request that the verdicts be thrown out because the theory of prosecution was unsupported (indictment below).  State Department Agent Harry Smith, who was one of the government's key witnesses, is also charged.  The prosecution began shortly after the Sept. 11 terror attacks when a search of a Detroit apartment turned up evidence believed to be related to a terrorist cell.  Among the evidence used at trial was a hand-written drawing of what the government asserted was the Queen Alia Military Hospital in Jordan; the notebook in which the drawing was found contained the Arabic writings "Queen Alia" and "Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan."  Convertino and Smith viewed the hospital, and Smith attempted to take pictures of the facility.  When those pictures did not turn out, he requested that another State Department agent in Jordan take digital pictures of the hospital, which were eventually e-mailed to Convertino before the trial.  At trial, however, Smith testified in response to Convertino's questions that no pictures of the hospital were ever taken, and indeed could not be taken because it was a military hospital and a foreign agent taking such pictures would jeopardize the relationship with the Jordanian government.  The defense had requested any pictures of the hospital to determine whether the drawing, which was quite crude, in fact matched the building, but Convertino denied that any existed.  The photographs eventually came to light, and led the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate the prosecution and determine that the terror charges were  unfounded.

Among the overt acts for the conspiracy charge is the allegation that Convertino "failed to comply with his duty" to disclose the photographs to defense counsel.  This may be the first criminal prosecution premised in part on the failure to comply with the prosecution's Brady obligation.  Similarly, the obstruction of justice charge is based on "concealing contradictory evidence from the Court, defendants and jurors," which again relies on the due process right of defendants to disclosure of material exculpatory evidence.  Convertino has consistently maintained that the prosecution was proper, and that he is being prosecuted because he is a whistle-blower.  He has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice and various current and former DOJ officials in Washington D.C. related to his being removed from the case and relieved of his duties as a prosecutor.

The prosecution is the end game in a case that was touted by Attorney General Ashcroft as the first significant terror prosecution after Sept. 11 and collapsed after the government, at the urging of the district court judge who presided over the trial, took a second look at the evidence and whether it fulfilled its Brady obligations.  Two of the original defendants entered guilty pleas to minor charges, and it is likely that they had nothing to do with terrorist groups.  This indictment may help to show how serious the government is in ensuring that trials are conducted fairly. (ph)

Download convertino_indictment.pdf

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/whitecollarcrime_blog/2006/03/former_assistan.html

Obstruction, Perjury, Prosecutors | Permalink

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» The Convertino case from Houston's Clear Thinkers
Clear Thinkers favorite Peter Henning provides this cogent analysis of the important case of Richard Convertino, the former Assistant U.S. Attorney who was indicted yesterday on conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury charges for his part as le... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 30, 2006 5:31:34 AM

Comments

If this AUSA was not on the outs, this case would never have been pushed. I wish more of these type of prosecutions happened. It would be nice for AUSA's to be concerned that there behavior in the court room can be judged in the future.

Posted by: John Hasgter | Mar 30, 2006 11:11:34 AM

Can you please comment on whether or not Convertino has engaged in questionable prosecutorial behavior in his past work prior to this particular case. Also, isn't is relatively rare for prosecutors to face criminal charges for their misbehavior, as opposed to other types of sanctions? Thank you.

Posted by: DJ | Mar 31, 2006 7:29:43 AM

DJ,

It is quite rare for a prosecutor at any level to be charged with a crime related to their trial-related conduct. One of the charges (the last count of the indictment)against Convertino involves a sentencing in an unrelated case, although it took place at the same time as the conduct in the Detroit Terrorism Trial. Prosecutors are often accused of violating Brady by not disclosing information, but whether the claim is true or not is another issue. I'm not aware of any cases in which Convertino was trial counsel in which a successful Brady claim was brought for suppression of evidence, but there may be one (or more) out there, I have not checked.

Peter Henning

Posted by: Peter Henning | Mar 31, 2006 7:59:56 AM

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