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Eric Starkman: The Unethical Preet Bharara and His Despicable Media Enablers

Eric Starkman is founder and president of STARKMAN, a public relations and crisis communications firm based in Los Angeles.  He was previously a reporter at major newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.

By Eric Starkman
For ticklethewire.com

preet-bharara-time

Growing up in Toronto I had a quintessentially Canadian view about government authority: Only bad people ran afoul of the law.

But my innocence was shattered when I was a young reporter at The Toronto Star and Ontario’s Attorney General leaked me some information about some entrepreneurs who had embarrassed his Administration that I knew to be untrue. I didn’t write the story but other reporters happily picked up the narrative, ultimately giving the government the PR cover to seize the businesses of the entrepreneurs without any due process. I’m still shaken by the abuse of power.

I naively believed that such prosecutorial wrongdoing could never happen in the U.S. My bubble was quickly burst when The Detroit News hired me as a business reporter and assigned me to cover the high profile administrative hearing of Stanford Stoddard, a maverick Michigan banker who the Comptroller of the Currency alleged had misappropriated funds from the bank he founded. In her opening statement, a young ambitious OCC attorney alleged that among Stoddard’s wrongdoings was using bank funds to purchase alcohol. As Stoddard was a devout Mormon the charge was exceptionally damning, so I asked Stoddard’s attorney about the allegation. Turns out the alcohol in question was a bottle of wine for a religious ceremony.

Former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who was lionized in the media as “The Sherriff of Wall Street,” jolted me with another wakeup call about prosecutorial wrongdoing. Spitzer and his minions routinely spread false or misleading information about my former client Dick Grasso after he was forced out of the New York Stock Exchange because of bogus allegations the former chairman and CEO was overpaid. An example of Team Spitzer’s dishonesty was leaking a document that showed Grasso’s son accompanied him on the private jet the NYSE chartered so Grasso could host a reception at Davos, Switzerland. Spitzer’s team neglected to provide the documentation showing that Grasso reimbursed the NYSE for the cost of his son’s trip.

Preet Bharara, who was just fired as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, took Spitzer’s prosecutorial abuse to an even higher level. For a time, Bharara was an even bigger media darling than Spitzer, garnering fawning media coverage for his high-profile cases, including this gusher of a puff piece by William Cohan in Fortune. Bharara loved the media limelight, routinely holding news conferences to trump up publicity for his cases and leaking damaging allegations to obsequious reporters who gladly published them and abetted in the smearing of his targets before they had an opportunity to defend themselves.

As Jesse Eisinger noted last week in Pro Publica, Bharara was no hero. His prosecutorial track record was mixed, as several of his high-profile cases were overturned on appeal. And his practice of arguing his cases in the media earned him the opprobrium of the judge overseeing his case against Sheldon Silver, the former NY Democratic State Assembly speaker, who charged that Bharara’s media blitz “strayed so close to the rules governing his own conduct.”

Even Cohan came to appreciate Bharara’s unethical behavior, publishing this impressive story about the questionable tactics used to pressure former hedge fund manager Todd Newman to settle insider trading charges. Bharara tellingly was too tongue tied to talk to Cohan for a story that was critical of him.

Sadly, the universe of reporters who appreciate the dangers of prosecutorial abuse is limited to a handful of some very experienced reporters.  One of them is New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, who has written critically about Bharara and presumably played a meaningful role in the critical portrayal of U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades in the Showtime series “Billions.” (Sorkin is one of the show’s creators).  The Rhoades character is clearly based on Bharara, replete with the latter’s petulance and media manipulation. The show also admirably is unkind in its portrayal of a reporter and his pursuit of a scoop.

Best-selling author Michael Lewis took up the cause of Sergey Aleynikov, the Goldman Sachs programmer who was convicted and sentenced to prison for stealing computer code, Jim Stewart wrote about the questionable charges leveled against Zachary Warren, and Joe Norcera wrote an admirable column about the shameful prosecution of Charlie Engle.

Diane Brady, among the fairest and most ethical journalists, recently commented that stories based on leaked documents should be held to the same reporting standards as any news story.  That’s an admirable requirement, but regretfully we’ve entered the Brian Stelter media age, where reporters who publish leaked documents and give anonymous people a platform for their political agendas are deemed “investigative journalists.”

The media can’t be counted on to protect against prosecutorial wrongdoing. But with Bharara out of office, the Southern District is momentarily a safer place for innocent people.

 

About 50 Undocumented Immigrants Detained in Detroit During Alleged Cockfighting

Courtesy of ICE

Courtesy of ICE

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

DETROIT — Federal authorities busted an alleged cockfighting and gambling ring in southwest Detroit over the weekend, detaining about 50 undocumented immigrants.

ICE agents and law enforcement from local and state agencies executed a search warrant at 1 p.m. Saturday at an abandoned building where authorities said they found about 85 people and 100 chickens, Motor City Muckraker reports. 

ICE agents said the raid was the culmination of a months-long investigation.

About 85 people were in the building, and only one was charged criminally.

The largest concentration of Hispanic immigrants live in southwest Detroit.

Kellyanne Conway’s Husband Poised to Land a Top DOJ Job

Kellyanne Conway

Kellyanne Conway

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway’s husband is expected to be nominated to lead the Justice Department civil division, a position that will enable him to defend President Trump’s executive order on immigration.

White House officials are poised to make the announcement of the nomination of George Conway, a New York lawyer, in the next few days, people familiar with the matter told the Chicago Tribune. 

Conway has specialized in securities litigation and other corporate legal issues for the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.

The Tribune wrote:

The Justice Department’s civil division is an important but mostly behind-the-scenes part of the government. Its lawyers are responsible for defending federal policies and agencies in court, and for pursuing alleged wrongdoing by corporations.

During the Obama administration, the civil division racked up tens of billions of dollars’ worth of financial penalties against major corporations. Some of those settlements resolved probes of international banks for their handling of residential mortgage-backed securities that contributed to the financial collapse of 2008. Other settlements stemmed from investigations into whether pharmaceutical companies sold billions of dollars of prescription drugs under false pretenses.

Secret Service Agent Who Said She Won’t Take Bullet for Trump Removed from Post

badge_of_the_united_states_secret_serviceBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Kathy O’Grady, the Secret Service special agent who said she would rather go to jail than take a bullet for President Trump, has been removed from her position.

O’Grady was the special agent in charge of the Secret Service’s Denver district. Now there’s a concern she will be transferred to another federal agency, Townhall.com reports. 

O’Grady has been on paid administrative leave since making the comments about Trump on Facebook in January.

Secret Service is looking for someone to replace O’Grady.

FBI Helps Find Tom Brady’s Stolen Jersey from Super Bowl LI

Tom Brady, via Wikipedia

Tom Brady, via Wikipedia

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The FBI has helped locate the jersey that Tom Grady was wearing during the Super Bowl LI, FOX Sports reports

The jersey, which is valued at $500,000, was in Brady’s bag in the locker room after the game. The NFL believed someone posing as a member of the international press stole the jersey.

The jersey was discovered on “foreign soil.”

Other Stories of Interest

Weekend Series on Crime History: The Real ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ Talked About How He Became Corrupted Bloomberg

Woman at FBI’s Philadelphia Office Claims Sexual Discrimination After She Was Demoted

Megan Lampinski is suing the FBI for sexual discrimination. Photo via Linked In.

Megan Lampinski is suing the FBI for sexual discrimination. Photo via Linked In.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A woman who previously headed the FBI Philadelphia office’s computer unit claimed Thursday that she was demoted and replaced with a male employee.

In a civil rights lawsuit, computer specialist Megan Lampinski was removed from her job as a supervisor the information technology division in 2008 because of sexual discrimination, Philly.com reports. 

“The government asserts she was a poor supervisor…. The evidence doesn’t back that up,” Lampinski’s attorney, Maurice R. Mitts, told a jury in the civil trial, noting glowing performance evaluations that Lampinski had received before she was demoted.

Lampinski, 52, was promoted to supervisor in the information technology unit in 2004. Then four years later, she said, she was given a nonsupervisory position in security screening, a job for which she had no experience.

The FBI asserts that Lampinski wasn’t performing well.

“There was no discrimination and no retaliation,” said government attorney Kelly A. Smith.

The trial continues Friday.

FBI One of Few Agencies to Benefit from Trump’s Proposed Budget

fbigunbadgeBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The FBI is one of the few federal agencies that could benefit from President Trump’s proposed budget.

Under the budget proposal, Trump’s administration recommends a $61 million increase for the FBI and Justice Department to improve tracking terrorist communications and combat cybercriminals, FedScoop reports.

“The FBI would devote resources toward its world-class cadre of special agents and intelligence analysts, as well as invest $61 million more to fight terrorism and combat foreign intelligence and cyber threats and address public safety and national security risks that result from malicious actors’ use of encrypted products and services,” the budget blueprint states.

Trump’s proposed budget would increase the FBI’s overall funding by $249 million, or 3%.