OPINION: It is a travesty of justice that Andrew Weissman never has been held accountable
With good reason, much has been written about how misguided the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel was and the terrible judgment he showed in selecting almost all active political partisans and donors to Hillary Clinton’s campaign for his team. Indeed, Mueller himself is a partner in the law firm that represented Ms. Clinton and Mueller hand-picked for his Special Counsel team, a partner from his firm who actually served as Ms. Clinton’s personal lawyer in her related email scandal. This was an investigation into the conduct of the President of the United States. It is hard to imagine a situation in which there was a greater public interest in requiring the highest sense of integrity and the unquestionable appearance of impartiality; but those factors, fundamental to the public’s acceptance of his investigation and conclusions, appear never to have been considered by Mueller and certainly played no role in his selections. This is unfathomable and has rightly been criticized. But most of the criticism directed toward Mueller and his team has focused, perhaps quite naturally, on the political bias reflected in the composition of the team. That criticism applies in full force, of course, to Mueller’s chief deputy, Andrew Weissmann, a donor to the Clinton campaign and to other Democratic Party candidates, who reportedly was brought to tears when Ms. Clinton conceded her loss to Donald Trump.
I would respectfully submit, however, that the far more concerning factor regarding the Mueller team and Andrew Weissmann is the fact that, politics aside, Mueller picked Weissmann to be his top deputy in the Special Counsel endeavor, knowing full well Weissmann’s long and compellingly documented history of outrageous prosecutorial misconduct, reflected in Weissmann’s work over the past three decades.
An examination of Weissmann’s work as a prosecutor indicates quite emphatically that there is simply no limit to the kind or degree of prosecutorial misconduct in which he has been willing to engage. The examples of Weissmann’s misconduct and the lives he has ruined or cost as a result could fill a book. Indeed, a great deal has been written about his misconduct in the Enron and Arthur Anderson cases that ruined so many lives and his actions there truly were reprehensible. But a consideration of two cases he prosecuted almost thirty years ago, as a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York stand alone in demonstrating his prosecutorial misconduct and government corruption under his watch that is unparalleled.
In the early 1990s Weissmann, John Gleeson, and others formed a team in the federal prosecutors’ office in Brooklyn, NY that prosecuted alleged organized crime figures. This group’s record, as reported by other prosecutors and informants who worked with them, indicates that they apparently decided for themselves that the ends justified any means they decided to use in their work, no matter the ethical transgressions they would commit along the way.
Weissmann was not satisfied in simply prosecuting defendants against whom there actually was evidence of a crime; nor could he play by the rules. That has been the hallmark of his entire career. His prosecution of two men in particular during the early 1990s demonstrates the point in ways that one would have thought unimaginable, if they were not fully documented and undeniable.
These two men, Michael Sessa and Victor Orena, have been in prison for thirty years, serving life sentences without the possibility of parole, after being convicted through the most outrageous examples of Weissmann’s misconduct on record. I cannot possibly cover in the space allotted here all of the examples of the outrageous prosecutorial misconduct in which Weissmann and his colleagues engaged in these cases; but consider just these examples just from Michael Sessa’s case. All of the facts below are unequivocally established by documents I obtained in investigating these cases and from interviews I have conducted with many witnesses, including top informants who worked with Weissmann on the cases.
Weissmann and his colleagues claimed that there was an internal feud within the so-called Colombo organized crime family in New York. It is now clear that this “war” was a battle initiated by perhaps the most corrupt FBI agent in history, in league with government informants. The agent chose sides in the family and pitted one faction against another. The agent worked in tandem with a brutal mafia killer, Gregory Scarpa, who admitted to over 50 murders and actually committed many more. The agent effectively gave Scarpa a license to kill and, according to Scarpa’s son, who I have interviewed extensively, the agent participated in crimes with Scarpa (and his son), including several murders, and was paid for his help in providing information to Scarpa about his next victims. Ultimately the agent was charged with several murders and with helping on others. All of this took place while the agent was Weissmann’s case agent.
In fact, we now know that in 1992, when Scarpa was arrested on a gun charge in the middle of his killing spree, the corrupt agent went to Weissmann and his colleagues to get Scarpa out of the charges and they intervened, continuing his license to kill. And killing is exactly what Scarpa did. He did not confine his killing to fellow mafiosos. Rather, through the license Scarpa effectively was given, completely innocent civilians were killed, including a 17 year old boy and a doctor.
When Weissmann ultimately was confronted with indisputable evidence of the corrupt relationship between the agent and Scarpa, according to a former federal prosecutor involved with the cases, Weissmann instructed her that the government had no obligation to disclose this corruption to the defendants in any of the cases they were working, including cases in which Scarpa had been the source of information against the defendant and in which the corrupt agent testified under oath. That is exactly the scenario that unfolded in Michael Sessa’s case. Weissmann alleged that Sessa killed a man named Collucio and had him arrested. Sessa, knowing he had nothing to do with this, self-surrendered to fight the charge, without knowing the kind of government misconduct he was about to face.
In the proceedings leading up to Michael Sessa’s trial, Weissmann had Sessa’s counsel of choice disqualified and then rushed Sessa to trial with new lawyers. Sessa’s lawyers asked for the identity of the government’s primary source of information against him, identified by the government only as a Confidential Source. Weissmann refused to disclose the identity and assured the judge it was not necessary for the defense to know. During the investigation after Sessa was tried and convicted, we learned that that source was none other than Gregory Scarpa.
Sessa’s lawyers in discovery asked that the NYPD investigative file be produced. Weissmann and his partner assured the judge that they knew their obligations to disclose evidence favorable to the defendant or that would impeach any government witness and they told the judge that they had examined the NYPD file and there was no such information in it. This was an outrageous lie of the first order. We obtained a copy through a source during the post-conviction investigation. In truth it provides an abundance of exculpatory evidence that was critically important. For example, the NYPD investigation identified 10-12 suspects in the Collucio murder, none of whom was Michael Sessa, and one of whom was none other than Greg Scarpa. It was filled with other evidence consistent with Sessa’s innocence.
Weissmann claimed that Michael was involved in a meeting related to the murder and that Collucio’s wife was aware of this. I interviewed the wife and she swore under oath that there never was any such meeting and that she is 100% sure Sessa had nothing to do with the murder.
At Sessa’s trial, Weissmann had the corrupt agent testify against Michael, while concealing his corrupt relationship with Scarpa. The agent lied over and over again and Weissmann knew it. In closing argument, Weissmann’s trial partner urged the jury to acquit if they believed anything the agent said was untrue. But of course Weissmann and his partner well knew his testimony had been false and that they had concealed his corruption.
Sessa’s defense team had reason to believe that one of Weissmann’s primary witnesses against Sessa had been arrested for heinous crimes, including kidnapping, rape, sodomy, and more – crimes that would have undercut his credibility and that the defense was entitled to know about. Weissmann denied it all. In our investigation we learned that the suspicions were well founded and Weissmann had blatantly lied. This same witness testified that he had received no money from the government in connection with his testimony, save for food and lodging. In 2012, the corrupt agent admitted that the witness had in fact been paid $120,000 in connection with his work for the government as Weissmann well knew and failed to disclose, listening silently instead as the witness lied.
Sessa’s defense has reason to believe another of Weissmann’s witnesses had psychiatric problems and that there were documents so establishing. The witness denied having seen a psychiatrist. Weissmann confirmed this lie to the judge. In fact, it was established that the witness and Weissmann had lied. The witness had indeed been interviewed by a psychiatrist who believed he was a liar and a cheat and who had faxed his report so finding to the government two months earlier.
The examples go on and on. In Vic Orena’s case recently, one of the government’s top echelon informants reached out to us in a long letter outlining some of the misconduct he witnessed and evidence he had provided to the government showing both Orena’s and Sessa’s innocence. He explained how he knew Orena was innocent and he revealed something else shocking. In trying to pull out all the stops against Sessa, Weissmann had alleged that Sessa committed another murder he well knew was not so. The top echelon informant admitted to us to he had told the government that he had actually committed the murder and Sessa had nothing whatsoever to do with it. Weissmann concealed this fact and only had the murder charged dismissed against Sessa long afterward. Government informants have reported to us repeatedly that Weissmann and his colleagues lied to the court regularly and that the judges seemed intimidated. One of Weissmann’s primary witnesses was caught on tape saying that he was told what he was to testify to over and over again.
When I began investigating these cases, I met with Vic Orena’s lawyer, one of New York’s most respected criminal defense lawyers for decades. He was outraged by what he had seen from Weissmann. He told me that he refers to Weissmann as “the pathological liar” after the SNL character and he chuckled. I asked him how he could laugh about it. He said that he has found Weissmann to be so evil and his behavior so outrageous that they never know what dirty trick he will use next and then deny and so all he could do was shake his head and laugh at how absurd it was that he kept getting away with it.
Finally, in 1997, it seemed like Weissmann would be stopped. The Chief federal judge in Brooklyn wrote an opinion addressing the corrupt relationship between the agent and Scarpa that Weissmann had concealed, that by then finally had come to light. In his opinion the judge singled out and excoriated Weissmann by name for his “myopic” view of his ethical obligations and his “reprehensible” conduct in withholding this critical evidence from defendants. However, Weissmann’s boss wrote to the judge asking him to remove Weissmann’s name, for fear it would impact his career. Shockingly, the judge complied and issued a new opinion without Weissmann’s name. I have both opinions and the letter. This clearly set Weissmann on the path to believing correctly that he would be able to make a career out of engaging in prosecutorial misconduct and obtaining wrongful convictions with impunity.
Tellingly, when the evidence Weissmann withheld from Orena and Sessa concerning the corrupt relationship finally surfaced, judges in related cases required that it all be disclosed to the defendants and that they be permitted to let the jury know about it. The evidence went to the jury in each of the related cases tried after Orena and Sessa and all 16 defendants before four different juries and judges were found not guilty.
Yet today, Vic Orena, now 85 and suffering from Alzheimer’s and other major health ailments, and Michael Sessa, now in his 60s, remain locked up for life without the possibility for parole. Nothing can repay them for the 30 years of their lives they have lost because of Andrew Weissmann, who procured their wrongful convictions through his outrageous misconduct; but they both deserve pardons immediately or at least must have their sentences commuted to time served. They more than deserve it, the integrity of our system demands it, and it would send exactly the message that must be sent about Andrew Weissmann and anyone who would model their behavior after his.
David Schoen is a world renowned civil rights and criminal defense attorney. Mr. Schoen is frequently a guest on Fox News and he has law offices in New York and Alabama. He takes cases from all around the country and overseas.
You can follow David Schoen on Twitter @davidschoen1