Posts tagged ‘Nigerian Barge’

Prosecutorial Abuse

One of my theories I have mentioned before on this blog is that the worst abuses of freedom occur when the Left and Right in this country agree.  Here is another great example -- combine the Right's law-and-order drive to hand more power to,  and remove accountability from, police and prosecutors with the Left's need to string up some executives after the Enron collapse -- and you get this:

The DOJ has inexplicably teed up another trial of Brown, who was the only one of the Merrill defendants who was convicted on additional charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for having the temerity of protesting his innocence to the grand jury that originally investigated the Nigerian Barge deal. Brown's new trial is currently scheduled to begin on September 20.

But in the meantime, Brown's legal team has been leafing through enormous amounts of exculpatory evidence that the Enron Task Force withheld from the Merrill defendants in connection with the first trial back in 2005, but which the DOJ has recently been forced to disclose.

The result of the Brown team's effort is set forth below in the Supplemental Memorandum in support of a motion for a new trial for Brown on the perjury and obstruction charges (the downloaded version of the memo is bookmarked in Adobe Acrobat to facilitate ease of review). The memorandum details the appalling length that the Enron Task Force went during the first trial in suppressing exculpatory evidence in favor of Brown and his co-defendants and generally disregarding the rule of law in order to obtain convictions. As the memorandum concludes:

The conclusion is now inescapable that the ETF engaged in a calculated, multi-step process to deprive Brown of his constitutional right to Due Process. (1) They repeatedly denied the existence of Brady material, told this court they had met their Brady obligations and fought vehemently against producing anything [exhibit reference and footnote omitted]. They highlighted only selected material in a veritable garden of Brady evidence "“ much of their selections being vague, tangential or marginal"“while working around clear, declarative, relevant exculpatory material even in the same page, paragraph or document. (3) When ordered by the Court to produce summaries to the defense, they further redacted even the Brady material they had themselves highlighted and withheld the crucial facts that they had highlighted as Brady. (4) They egregiously capitalized on their misconduct at trial by making assertions that were directly belied by the exculpatory evidence they withheld.  .  .  .

The memorandum goes on to set out dozens of Brady violations, including charts that compare the exculpatory statements that the Enron Task Force withheld prior to the first trial with the incriminating statements that the Enron Task Force extracted from witnesses during that trial.

Folks, this is really bad stuff. But as bad as it is, I have not seen any mention of it in the mainstream media.

Prosecutorial Abuse

Tom Kirkendall has stayed on the case of Enron Task Force prosecutorial abuse even while most of the world has turned away, apparently believing that "mission accomplished"  (ie putting Skilling in jail) justifies about any set of shady tactics.

But the evidence continues to grow that Skilling did not get a fair trial.  We know that the task force bent over backwards to pressure exculpatory witnesses from testifying for Skilling, but now we find that prosecutors may have hidden a lot of exculpatory evidence from the defense.

Meanwhile, continuing to fly under the mainstream media's radar
screen is the growing scandal relating to the Department of Justice's
failure to turnover potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense
teams in two major Enron-related criminal prosecutions (see previous
posts here and here). The DOJ has a long legacy of misconduct in the Enron-related criminal cases that is mirrored by the mainstream media's myopia in ignoring it (see here, here, here, here and here).

This motion
filed recently in the Enron-related Nigerian Barge criminal case
describes the DOJ's non-disclosure of hundreds of pages of notes of FBI
and DOJ interviews of Andrew Fastow, the former Enron CFO who was a key prosecution witness in the Lay-Skilling trial and a key figure in the Nigerian Barge trial.

Enron Task Force prosecutors withheld the notes of the Fastow
interviews from the defense teams prior to the trials in the
Lay-Skilling and Nigerian Barge cases. If the Fastow notes turn out to
reflect that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence or induced
Fastow to change his story over time, then that would be strong grounds
for reversal of Skilling's conviction and dismissal of the remaining
charges against the Merrill Lynch bankers in the Nigerian Barge case.

The post goes on to describe pretty substantial violations of FBI rules in handling interviews with Fastow, including destruction of some of the Form 302's summarizing early interviews.  The defense hypothesis is that Fastow changed his story over time, particularly vis a vis Skilling's involvement, under pressure from the task force and the 302's were destroyed and modified to hide this fact from the defense, and ultimately the jury.

Enron Verdicts Starting to Unravel

Tom Kirkendall has an update on the various Enron cases, starting with the Nigerian barge case where  the conviction of four Merrill Lynch executives was vacated by the Fifth Circuit.  In fact, the appeals court ruling was so damning that the DOJ has decided not to retry the executives, and the case may well be a leading indicator that other Enron-related prosecutions are in jeopardy.

Although expected, the DOJ's decision in the Nigerian Barge case
reverberates through several other pending Enron-related cases. The DOJ
can retry three of the four former Merrill Lynch executives, but that
would be petty by even the DOJ's standards given the eviscerated nature
of the original charges and the fact that each of the defendants has
already spent a year of their lives in prison based on a prosecution
that was based more on resentment than on true criminal conduct. The
Fifth Circuit's now final decision in the barge case casts doubt (see also here) on a substantial number of the charges upon which former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling was convicted, and dispositively blows away over 80% of the case against former Enron Broadband executive Kevin Howard. In addition, the re-trials of Howard's former co-defendants from the disaster that was the first Enron Broadband case are now in various states of disarray, as is the pressured plea deal of former mid-level Enron executive, Chris Calger. And don't forget the mess that is the DOJ's case against the NatWest Three (see also here).

Are Prosecutors Going Too Far?

I have been following the Lay/Skilling Enron trial fairly closely, if only because in a past life I worked briefly with the principles, having worked with Jeff Skilling at McKinsey & Co. before he went to Enron.  By the way, if this causes you to assume this makes me particularly sympathetic to the gentlemen, think again.  Jeff Skilling is one of the brightest and most detail-oriented people I have ever worked with, giving me near certainty that his testimony before Congress where he imitated Sargent Shultz (I know nothing... NOTHING) was perjurous.   So I am not entirely neutral, but maybe not in the way you might imagine.

However, all that being said, Tom Kirkendall (whose blog is here and is doing a great job keeping up with the trial) has a very interesting post on the fairly scary tactics the Enron prosecution task force has brought to bear on a number of Enron and Enron-related defendants:

In an unprecedented move, the Task Force has named over 100 co-conspirators
in the case. So, the potential definitely exists for substantial
testimony about out-of-court statements going to the jury without the
defense ever having an opportunity to cross-examine the persons who
made the alleged statements. Moreover, fingering unindicted
co-conspirators is an equally effective technique for the Task Force to prevent testimony that is favorable to the defense
because persons named as unindicted co-conspirators are likely to the
assert their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and
thus, not be defense witnesses during the trial. Thus, the Task Force's
liberal use of the co-conspirator tag has a double-whammy effect -- not
only does it allow the Task Force to use out-of-court statements
against defendants without having the declarant of the statements
subjected to cross-examination, it has also effectively prevented
previous Enron-related defendants from obtaining crucial exculpatory
testimony from alleged co-conspirators who have elected to take the
Fifth and declined to testify.

The co-conspirator tactic has had a huge impact on two of the previous Enron-related trials. During the Nigerian Barge trial,
the Task Force used out-of-court statements of co-conspirators
regarding the key factual issue in the case -- that is, what was said
during a conference call between several Merrill and Enron executives,
including former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow -- without ever having to put
a witness on the stand who actually participated in the call.
Similarly, none of the dozens of unindicted co-conspirators testified
on behalf of the defendants during that trial, so the Task Force's use
of the tactic effectively prevented the Merrill Lynch executives in
that case from providing the jury with exculpatory testimony. Not
surprisingly, the Task Force's liberal use of the co-conspirator tactic
has become a key appellate point for the Merrill executives in the appeal of their convictions.

Similarly, the importance of the co-conspirator issue on freezing
out exculpatory testimony was brought into full focus during the trial
of the Enron Broadband case last year. In a trial that, at the outset, appeared to be a sure-thing for the prosecution, the Task Force's case unraveled quickly as witnesses Lawrence Ciscon and Beth Stier
both testified to a riveted jury about how the Task Force's threats of
prosecution against them gave them second thoughts about providing the
exculpatory testimony that they gave during the trial. That trial ended
in a disastrous mix of acquittals and jury deadlock on the prosecution's charges.

The ability to face and cross-examine your accusers is a fundamental part of the American legal system.  Even well-intentioned relaxing of this principle has in the past led to innocent people going to jail.

Update:  Kirkendall writes that the same issue is being addressed on appeal in the Worldcom trial of Bernard Ebbers.