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January 15, 2010

One step forward, a big step back

Furst Well, so finally the Department of Justice did the right thing and dismissed the remaining criminal charges against former Merrill Lynch banker, Dan Bayly, in connection with the shameful Enron-related Nigerian Barge prosecution.

Even in the heavily-littered landscape of failed Enron-related prosecutions, the Nigerian Barge prosecution stood out for its sheer brazen nature. As noted in this post from over five years ago (!), the Nigerian Barge prosecution was baseless from the start and, as later developments revealed, trumped-up to boot.

After prosecuting Arthur Andersen out of business in the intensely anti-business post-Enron climate of Houston in 2004, the Enron Task Force threatened to do the same to Merrill Lynch unless the firm served up some sacrificial lambs, which it did by offering Mr. Bayly, Robert Furst, James Brown and William Fuhs.

Through a deferred prosecution agreement with Merrill, the Task Force then proceeded to hamstring the Merrill defendants' defense by limiting access to other Merrill Lynch executives who were involved in the barge transaction. To make matters worse, the Task Force then intimidated other potentially exculpatory witnesses by threatening to indict them if they cooperated with the Merrill defendants’ defense.

Thus, after bludgeoning a couple of plea deals from former key witnesses Ben Glisan and Michael Kopper, the Task Force proceeded to put on a paper-thin case against the defendants, which was good enough to obtain convictions.

Of course, most of the convictions were vacated on appeal (and in Fuhs' case, thrown out completely), but not before each of the Merrill defendants had served over a year in prison and their families had incurred the incalculable human cost of these misguided prosecutions.

Incredibly, over the past couple of years, the Department of Justice (the Enron Task Force has, mercifully, been disbanded) actually has been threatening to pursue a re-trial of the Merrill defendants. Accordingly, the dismissal of the remaining charges against Mr. Bayly was good news. A similar dismissal of charges against his remaining co-defendants - Messrs. Furst and Brown – would certainly follow, right?

Apparently not, at least for the time being. Inexplicably, the DOJ announced yesterday that it is continuing to pursue charges against Mr. Furst.

So, Mr. Furst unloaded on the DOJ yesterday with the filing of this motion to dismiss on the grounds of pervasive and egregious prosecutorial misconduct. You can review the motion here, but if you go ahead and download it, then you can review a version of the motion that is bookmarked in Adobe Acrobat to facilitate ease of review. Inasmuch as the 45 page motion includes about 350 pages of exhibits, bookmarks are helpful.

The summary of the motion gets right to the shocking point:

The American criminal justice system is built upon the principle that the government’s interest “is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.” Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935). The Enron Task Force (the “ETF”)—a team of prosecutors and investigators formed in 2002 to address the public demand for individual accountability in the aftermath of Enron’s collapse—investigated, indicted, and prosecuted Defendant Robert Furst and his co-defendants with the goal to win at all costs. And the ETF “won”—Mr. Furst spent almost a year in prison before his conviction was overturned on appeal.

But to secure victory, the ETF engaged in a campaign of misconduct which violated Mr. Furst’s constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial. This misconduct was necessary because the case the ETF indicted and hoped to prosecute, which would involve a sordid tale of a well-organized conspiracy to defraud Enron and its shareholders, was not supported by the facts.

The ETF could not prove that Enron or its shareholders lost any money in the barge transaction, because they did not. The form and mechanics of the transaction were thoroughly vetted through hundreds of hours of negotiation by dozens of highly-competent attorneys. Witnesses interviewed by the ETF undercut its theory of the case. In short, the barge transaction had all the markings of a legitimate business transaction, because it was.

But legitimate business transactions do not generate convictions, and the ETF needed convictions. So, in order to ensure victory, the ETF:

? withheld volumes of exculpatory, case-dispositive evidence which nullified its theory of criminal liability;

? manipulated and misstated exculpatory testimony in pretrial disclosures to make it appear inculpatory;

? silenced witnesses by indiscriminately designating nearly all material witnesses as unindicted co-conspirators; and

? sponsored inculpatory testimony that it knew was false.

The ETF’s conduct did not end with the return of the verdict. After trial, but before sentencing, the ETF received additional case-dispositive, exculpatory evidence from one of the key witnesses in the case. This evidence further nullified the ETF’s theory of criminal liability, and exculpated Mr. Furst.

Rather than disclosing this evidence to the Court, the ETF instead withheld the evidence and brazenly asked this Court to enhance Mr. Furst’s sentence for conduct which was negated by this and other evidence in the ETF’s possession. This misconduct eliminates all faith in the integrity of the jury’s verdict and warrants dismissal of the Indictment.  .   .   .

The mess that is the Nigerian Barge prosecution is a quintessential example of what happens when government is given the leeway to bastardize charges to criminalize a merely questionable business transaction and then appeal to juror resentment against wealthy businesspeople to procure politically popular convictions.

The damage to the defendants, their careers and their families that this abuse of power has caused is bad enough. But the carnage to justice and respect for the rule of law is even more ominous. Does anyone really think that they could stand upright in the winds of such abusive governmental power if that gale turned toward them?

The remaining charges against Messrs. Furst and Brown should be dismissed. Not only for their protection, but for ours, too.

Posted by Tom at January 15, 2010 12:01 AM |

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