Powerful New York Prosecutors Under Scrutiny As Many Convictions of Likely Dirty Cop Are Probed
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Two are now New York State judges. Several others are accomplished lawyers at some of the city’s more respected firms. Four have risen to be senior officials in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, one of the largest municipal law enforcement agencies in the country.
These people – and likely dozens of others – are linked in at least one, suddenly noteworthy way: they prosecuted cases over the last two decades with Louis Scarcella, a former Brooklyn homicide detective whose work, and possible misconduct, has become the focus of intense public scrutiny. Charles J. Hynes, the current top prosecutor in Brooklyn, has ordered a formal review of 50 cases that Scarcella investigated, an enormous undertaking that was prompted by Scarcella’s alleged role in wrongly convicting a Brooklyn man of murder more than 20 years ago.
The stakes for Scarcella are obvious and serious: a possibly ruined reputation; exposure to possible litigation; concerns about his personal safety (he and his house have already received some formal protection from the New York City Police Department).
To date, Hynes has refused to say explicitly whether his inquiry will examine the work done by the prosecutors who worked alongside Scarcella, accepting his evidence, making use of the confessions he obtained, vouching for the witnesses he helped locate and interview.
In emailed responses to questions from ProPublica, Hynes’s spokesman, Jerry Schmetterer, said that the investigation is “confidential.” “We’ll go wherever the investigation leads us,” Schmetterer said.
One person familiar with the inquiry said Hynes had enlisted a panel of former judges and lawyers to assist in the review, but it is unclear what precise role they will play.
But legal experts, defense lawyers for the men Scarcella helped incarcerate, and Hynes’s political rivals have all said that any investigation of Scarcella’s cases that does not extend to the prosecutors who worked with him would be fundamentally suspect.
Certainly, should additional people be freed as a result of Hynes’s probe, lawsuits would follow, efforts that doubtless would seek to explore the role of prosecutors in any tainted Scarcella case. Already, the one man freed because of concerns about Scarcella’s work – David Ranta, who served 23 years in state prison for the murder of a rabbi in Brooklyn – has filed a notice that he intends to pursue a malicious prosecution lawsuit.
Laurie Levenson, a former assistant U.S. Attorney who now teaches criminal law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said that if Hynes truly intends to conduct a thorough investigation, his current and former prosecutors should be scrutinized just as much as Scarcella.
“Frankly, there could be plenty of blame to go around,” Levenson said.
The number of current and former prosecutors whose handling of cases could be put under the microscope is formidable. Scarcella was a very active and aggressive detective working Brooklyn at a time when there were hundreds of murders a year in the borough. And the length of his career – 26 years – means that he worked with succeeding generations of prosecutors.
The two prosecutors who tried the case against Ranta have gone on to prominent jobs. Suzanne Mondo is now a Brooklyn judge; Barry Schreiber is a respected defense lawyer. Neither returned calls for comment on the Ranta case.
Scarcella, in recent interviews with New York reporters, has cited the credentials of those prosecutors and others he worked with as evidence that he could not have done what he has been accused of – framing defendants, concocting confessions, coercing witnesses. He said in one interview that Schreiber was thrilled with his work in the Ranta case.