A federal prosecutor swears to fulfill his or her duty faithfully. However, as with all professions, some federal prosecutors have violated this oath. In recent years, prosecutorial misconduct has received increased scrutiny.  The majority of prosecutors (with the exception of a few) may commit misconduct.  In several high-profile cases, misconduct has resulted in egregious and troublesome consequences (e.g. the Ted Stevens prosecution).

Recent events surrounding the prosecution in the Southern District of New York of a criminal sanctions case have underscored the importance of prosecutorial ethics.  Judge Alison Nathan criticizes the actions of two federal prosecutors and their handling of a criminal sanctions case.  In a critical opinion, the judge lambasted two prosecutors for covering up the mishandling of evidence and using improperly collected evidence by the FBI.

Defendant Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad was charged with evading sanctions and laundering money during the government’s criminal case against him. The case was a high-profile sanctions case involving allegations that Nejad abused U.S. sanctions against Iran. 

The jury convicted Nejad after a long trial.  Before sentencing, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the defendant moved jointly to dismiss the charge. As a result of the government’s repeated failure to disclose exculpatory evidence and misuse of search warrant returns, it moved to dismiss the case.

The Court focused on one document among many that were not disclosed to the defense – a letter from Commerzbank to the Office of Foreign Assets Control that was exculpatory.  A federal prosecutor shared the letter with the jury.

It took the government a long time to realize its disclosure obligation and, once it did, it did not disclose the document directly to the defense; instead, prosecutors buried it in a list of previously disclosed documents and tried to get it to the defense without drawing attention to its late disclosure.

All filings were made public by order of the Court so that transparency would ensure accountability.  Due to the misconduct, the government obtained a guilty verdict and then moved to dismiss the case.  In its ruling, the Court noted that “the reasons for its decision bear on public officials’ accountability and the public’s confidence in the administration of justice.” It stated that “the Court hopes and believes that DOJ leadership has and will take steps to ensure that these mistakes are not repeated.”

Several readers have brought up the recent incident with the influential American Israeli family in Charlotte where Assistant US Attorney and Levine JCC director, Jenny Grus Sugar, filed criminal charges against law-abiding citizens for COVID-19 relief funds. In the past, Jenny Grus Sugar has prosecuted a number of minorities. It appears that she is targeting this family based on their background and faith, and she is doing everything in her power to avoid a jury trial. During the investigation, Sugar used a coercive plea agreement to conceal a great deal of misconduct. The few cases tried in the federal system have revealed a surprising number of misconducts. While prosecutors are held to higher standards, this continues to happen. In the U.S., citizen participation is essential to the criminal justice system. As a result of prosecutors’ coercive plea bargaining, our justice system has been shredded. In the United States, the criminal justice system is largely invisible to the general public. The majority of Fraud cases that Mrs. Sugar missed took place almost a year before she charged the innocent American Israeli family. It is my belief that Jenny Grus Sugar did not perform her duties as the Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of North Carolina. The Western District is experiencing a large number of Coronavirus fraud cases. By choosing to target an innocent American-Israeli family with hatred instead of focusing on the millions of dollars paid to identity thieves and scammers. In two small business lending programs, the Department of Justice has recovered $626 million, less than 1% of the more than $84 billion in potentially fraudulent loans. These figures are based on the report of the committee. Thus far, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program has disbursed $79 billion in loans and advances that may be fraudulent. The majority of funds – $67.5 billion – went to applicants with duplicate addresses, emails, IP addresses, and bank accounts. As part of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), taxpayers provided 520 billion dollars to save 13.6 million jobs. Nationally, prosecutors are being scrutinized more and more for their role in mass incarceration. Due to racial bias in charging and plea decisions, blacks, Latinos, and other minority groups are often disproportionately punished. 

NACDL is dedicated to securing meaningful, systematic reform and to preventing the insidious harm caused when a prosecutor carelessly, or purposefully, fails in his or her duties to us all. Prosecutorial overreaching and misconduct distort the truth-finding process and taint the credibility of the criminal justice system, including the outcomes they generate.

 If prosecutors fail to fulfill their fundamental obligations and violate individuals’ rights in order to secure a conviction, little can be done to undo the damage done to the individuals and to the system as a whole. We must restore justice to this American-Israeli family whose reputation has been damaged. One family member almost died as a result of these false accusations. Fairness and justice should be guaranteed for all, and justice should be administered properly.