Prosecutorial misconduct?

Oct 29, 2003 at 12:00 am

Did federal prosecutor Richard Convertino attempt to extort opposing counsel during a terrorism trial earlier this year?

That’s what defense attorney William Swor says happened, according to an affidavit filed in federal court. The affidavit is part of a motion asking U.S. District Court Judge Gerald E. Rosen, who presided over the terrorism trial, to throw out the convictions of three defendants or grant them a new trial.

Swor represented Abdel Ilah El Mardoudi during the six-week trial, which ended in June. A jury convicted El Mardoudi and another Moroccan man, Karim Koubriti, of providing material support to terrorists and of document fraud. A third defendant, Ahmed Hannan, was found guilty of document fraud. A fourth defendant, Farouk Ali-Haimoud, was acquitted of all charges.

Swor and other defense attorneys involved in the case argue in their motion that their clients were denied a fair trial because Convertino and assistant U.S. attorney Keith Corbett withheld evidence, prevented access to witnesses and knowingly elicited false testimony. Defense attorneys complained to Rosen about the government’s tactics throughout the trial.

Convertino and Corbett did not return News Hits’ calls.

In his affidavit, Swor specifically accuses Convertino, lead prosecutor in the case, of what amounts to extortion.

The affidavit claims that Convertino told Swor in a conference room at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Detroit that the FBI “had opened a file” on Swor regarding a conversation Swor had had with the court’s trial translator.

During the trial Swor spoke to the translator about a videotape that the government said proved the defendants are Islamic extremists.

The government complained to the judge that Swor tried to influence the translator, says Swor, who denied the claim. The court did not prohibit attorneys from talking to the court translator and Rosen did not pursue the matter.

The affidavit also says that Convertino asked Swor if he was “going to go after him” about FBI reports that Convertino allegedly did not turn over to the defense; the defense wanted the FBI reports, which contained statements that contradicted the testimony of the government’s star witness, according to the motion for a new trial.

Swor says in his affidavit that Convertino told him, “If you go easy on me, I’ll go easy on you.”

Swor says he later learned that the FBI did not initiate an investigation about his conversation with the court translator.

He believes that Convertino told him this to “intimidate” him and dissuade Swor from pursuing claims that the federal prosecutor had concealed evidence and attempted to keep the defense from locating a crucial witness.

Swor’s affidavit says that he immediately told fellow defense attorneys about Convertino’s alleged threat. He says they didn’t complain to the judge about Convertino at the time because they wanted to focus on the trial.

Attorney Robert Morgan, who represented Ali-Haimoud in the trial, says that Swor told him and the other defense attorneys about what Convertino had allegedly said.

“Looking at [Swor] and listening to him speak about the conversation with Convertino, there is absolutely no question in my mind that that occurred,” says Morgan.

Federal prosecutors are expected to respond to the motion for a new trial in about three weeks.

News Hits can’t help but wonder if Swor’s allegations have anything to with Convertino’s and Corbett’s removal from the case.

The pair have been replaced by assistant U.S. attorneys Eric Straus and Joseph Capone. Straus is with the Detroit office. Capone, who sat through the six-week trial, is assigned to the counterterrorism section of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

Jonathon Tukel, who is second in command at the Detroit U.S. Attorney’s office, would not discuss the change.

“We don’t ever talk about why an attorney is assigned to a case,” says Tukel. “But it would be wrong to assume that a change in any case is prompted because of any motion or allegation that has been filed.”

Tukel says it is not “uncommon” after a lengthy trial to assign new attorneys, particularly when the case is likely to be appealed.

A key question that remains unanswered is when Convertino and Corbett were taken off the case: Was it before or after the defense accused the prosecutors of engaging “in a persistent and pervasive pattern of misconduct?”

“Can’t comment,” Tukel says.

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