Articles Posted in News & Media

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Earlier this week, a Canadian woman from Quebec named Pascale Ferrier was arrested by American border agents crossing into the United States near Buffalo, New York. She was wanted by law enforcement for allegedly sending an envelope containing ricin to the White House. (Ricin is a potentially lethal poison) The envelope was addressed to President Donald Trump and contained a note calling him, among other things, an “Ugly Clown Tyrant”. Fingerprints from the package sent to the President matched fingerprints on file from Ms. Ferrier’s previous incarceration in Texas. The letter and its contents also appear to match several other letters sent to prison officials in Texas, which also appear to have contained ricin. At the time of her arrest, Ms. Ferrier also allegedly had a firearm in her waistband.

For now, Ms. Ferrier is charged in a D.C. federal court with one count of violating 18 U.S.C. Section 871 (Threats against the President). Among other things, this charge makes it illegal for a person to knowingly deliver a letter containing a threat to take the life of the American President. The maximum penalty for this charge is 5 years in prison.

Ms. Ferrier is likely to face additional charges soon, however. For example, should law enforcement choose to charge her for the threatening letters she might have sent to the officials in Texas, she could face several counts of 18 U.S.C. Section 2332b (Acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries). Basically, if a person attempts to kill an official of a U.S. government agency through the mail in a manner transcending national boundaries, then that person can be charged with this crime. Those charges would carry potential life sentences.

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Recently, in response to the horrific killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, there have been protests in major cities across the United States. An upstate woman and two New York attorneys were arrested and charged in federal court with crimes relating to their alleged throwing of Molotov cocktails at police vehicles during the protests in Brooklyn. However, most protestors arrested in New York City are charged with Desk Appearance Tickets in state court, and are typically charged with some combination of the following crimes: Obstructing Governmental Administration in the Second Degree (Penal Law 195.05, a Class A misdemeanor), Assault in the Second Degree (Penal Law 120.05, felony assault on a police officer, a class D felony), Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree (Penal Law 120.20, a Class A misdemeanor), Resisting Arrest (Penal Law 205.30, a class A misdemeanor), or Disorderly Conduct (Penal Law 240.20, a violation). (Note: the charge(s) listed on the Desk Appearance Ticket are not necessarily the same as the charges that will appear in court on the actual criminal complaint – in fact, the number of charges usually increases from the Desk Appearance Ticket to the actual court complaint).

Oftentimes, in these cases in which no one was injured, a protester-defendant could – with the help of an experienced attorney – successfully negotiate a plea bargain whereby the protester will have no criminal record and spend no time in jail (such as an “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal or a violation like Disorderly Conduct). In cases involving Desk Appearance Tickets, such negotiations may even be possible prior to the return date (i.e. the first court appearance). However, for reasons relating to principle, many protester-defendants refuse to accept any such deal, preferring to demand dismissal or a trial where their voices can be heard by a jury. Such an attitude is certainly understandable but it does tend to increase the risk of a negative result (such as a permanent criminal record).

Unfortunately, some protests escalate into confrontations with police officers. In those cases, charges like Assault in the Second Degree can sometimes be levied against arrested protesters alleged to have injured police officers. That charge is a serious felony that can carry real jail time, and should not be treated lightly at all. The best defense in these cases is often to argue that the defendant did not act unreasonably, and that any injuries to the police officer were sustained on account of his/her own aggressive or improper actions. In today’s current climate, that argument can have real traction with some jurors.

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In response to the shocking video of the apparent murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, people across the country have protested against police brutality and racism. Most of the protesters have been peaceful and well-intentioned, though some have unfortunately used the occasion as an opportunity for violence and looting. Recently, three people were notably arrested and charged in federal court in Brooklyn (the Eastern District of New York) for federal crimes relating to the use of explosive Molotov cocktails against NYPD vehicles. Samantha Shader, a woman from upstate New York, was arraigned on Monday and charged with Causing Damage by Fire in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(i). Astonishingly, two New York attorneys – Colinford Mattis and Urooj Rahman – have also been arrested for similar conduct and are presently awaiting their arraignment in federal court on presumably the same charge. It’s an unusual charge to see in federal court, but also an extremely serious one.

18 U.S.C. § 844(i) makes it a federal crime punishable between 5 and 20 years to “[m]aliciously damage[] or destroy[], or attempt to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any building, vehicle, or other real or personal property used in interstate or foreign commerce or in any activity affecting interstate or foreign commerce.” (The penalties are higher when public safety officers sustain injuries).

According to the complaint (as well as video footage available on the Internet) – Ms. Shader allegedly threw a Molotov cocktail (a bottle of flammable beer containing a burning rag or cloth) through the window of a police vehicle while it was occupied by four police officers. Thankfully, no police officers were injured. According to the publicly-available complaint filed against her, Ms. Shader has also admitted to the conduct. In addition, it is alleged that just a few hours later, the two aforementioned lawyers threw similar Molotov cocktails into an empty NYPD vehicle in Brooklyn.

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Today, the prosecutors in the case against Lori Loughlin filed with with the court a signed copy of her plea agreement, thereby indicating that Mr. Loughlin intends to plead guilty in connection with the “Varsity Blues” case involving college admissions fraud. (Her actual plea hearing has been scheduled for tomorrow, May 22, via videoconference). The agreement that she has entered into is somewhat rare in federal court, and has certain advantages for her.

Normally, in federal court, when a defendant chooses to plead guilty, he or she enters into a plea agreement with the prosecutors to establish certain terms and parameters for the sentencing. Plea agreements look like contracts and are usually at least five single-spaced pages long. A defendant acknowledges in the document that he/she is pleading guilty knowingly and voluntarily, and that he/she cannot take back the guilty plea once it has been entered before the court at a plea hearing. The agreements usually set forth the minimum and maximum possible penalties for the charged offenses, so that the defendant can acknowledge that he/she understands them. Also, a defendant agrees to plead guilty to certain charges in the indictment, and admits to certain conduct (for example, an amount of money fraudulently stolen, or a quantity of narcotics trafficked) that impacts the sentencing. Then, the parties to the plea agreement (the prosecutor and the defendant) agree to certain other factors (such as the defendant’s role in the offense, for example) that may establish where on the sentencing chart (for the Federal Sentencing Guidelines) that defendant’s sentence is likely to be. But, the agreements explicitly state that the ultimate decision as to the defendant’s sentence will be up to the sentencing judge to determine, based upon these established facts and parameters within the plea agreement, as well as the judge’s own considerations of the defendant and the defendant’s crime.

Here, in Ms. Loughlin’s case, the sentence has already been established by the agreement. This fact makes the agreement quite unusual for federal court, though hardly unprecedented. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C), Ms. Loughlin has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and in exchange, she will receive a sentence of two months in prison, a fine of $150,000.00, 24 months of supervised release with 100 hours of community service, and a special assessment of $100. The prosecution also will agree to dismiss the remaining charges against Ms. Loughlin and not pursue any further charges in connection with what it knows about this affair.  This all depends, however, upon the court accepting the agreement and Ms. Loughlin’s guilty plea.

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Harvey Weinstein was recently convicted by a jury of two of the five charges contained in a Manhattan indictment (Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree and Rape in the Third Degree). He will be sentenced on March 11 by the presiding judge at trial, James Burke. Weinstein faces a minimum sentence of five years in prison and a possible maximum sentence of 29 years. One can reasonably expect Weinstein to receive a sentence in the 10-15 year range, though it could be higher. We doubt he will receive a single-digit sentence, though, even in light of his advanced age and ill health.

Weinstein has a right to a direct appeal to the appellate court, in this case called the Appellate Division, First Department, based upon issues that were raised “on the record” (i.e. issues which can be pointed to in the trial transcript). The deadlines for filing and responding to an appeal are typically somewhat flexible in actual practice, as both sides routinely ask for and are awarded extensions of time to file their appellate arguments and responses. Given the complexity of this case, a reasonable estimate is that the appellate court will arrive at a decision about a year after sentencing, though it could potentially be sooner if the defense team submits their arguments quickly.

If Weinstein were to win his appeal, then he would earn a new trial on the two charges for which he was convicted. (He can never be convicted of or retried on the predatory sexual assault charges for which he was acquitted at trial.) If Weinstein loses his appeal, he could ask the Court of Appeals (the highest court in the New York State system) to hear his next appeal – this process is called “seeking leave” to appeal. Unlike the Appellate Division, the Court of Appeals is not required to hear his appeal. Typically, the Court of Appeals chooses to only consider cases with novel legal issues or cases of great importance, or cases involving issues about which lower courts in the state have disagreed. Theoretically, if the Court of Appeals denies leave, then Weinstein could seek the remedy called a writ of habeas corpus in state court, and then even pursue that type of appeal in federal court. This process of “exhausting” his appeals could potentially take several years.

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A federal law enforcement investigation codenamed “Operation Varsity Blues” recently resulted in the arrests of dozens of people for allegedly conspiring to fraudulently obtain admissions into selective universities. Fifty people have been accused of working together to bribe university athletic coaches, submit fraudulent college applications, cheat on college entrance exams, and otherwise bribe college officials into admitting otherwise undeserving applicants. The accused individuals include two former Hollywood actresses – Felicity Huffman and Lori McLaughlin (who famously portrayed “Aunt Becky” on the TV show “Full House”) – as well as wealthy hedge fund managers and the chair of international law firm Wilkie Farr & Gallagher, among others. Wealthy parents paid as much as $6.5 million in bribes and fraudulent payments to get their children into the universities of their choice, including Stanford, Yale, USC and others. The case has seized the national attention as an example of the privileged elite abusing their power and influence, and the Department of Justice states that this is the largest college admissions scandal that it has ever prosecuted.

The case began as many federal investigations do – with an undercover cooperator. Somehow, law enforcement investigators with the FBI identified William Rick Singer, the founder and chief executive officer of a nonprofit “college placement organization” called the Key, as a person engaged in unlawful activity.  Though the precise details have not yet been shared, it is clear that they ultimately confronted him with the evidence of his illegal activity and made a deal with him: cooperate against the people who had enlisted his help in order to minimize his eventual punishment.

Mr. Singer then started recording his telephone calls and conversations with his criminal clients. Those calls apparently revealed a wide-ranging series of scams designed to get students into the schools of their choice. For example, Singer arranged for students who had struggled on the college entrance exams to get favorable disability diagnosis from an enlisted medical professional so as to get more time to take their tests. Then, he also arranged for the prospective students to take their college placement tests under the supervision of a paid-for proctor who either corrected their answers or permitted someone else to take their tests for them. Singer made arrangements to have students appear to be successful athletes when they were not, or flat-out bribed college athletic coaches into agreeing to tell the admissions office that they needed the students for their college sports teams. Some of the college coaches were allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to fraudulently accept students onto their teams (and therefore, into the school) without the relevant athletic credentials.

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Today, Judge Steven O’Neill (who presided over Cosby’s recent sexual assault trial in Pennsylvania), sentenced Cosby to a sentence of 3-10 years in prison. The court had previously classified him as a sexually violent predator following a prior hearing. The court defended this decision by explaining that although the evidence of Cosby’s guilt had been “overwhelming,” including his own civil deposition, Cosby had refused to acknowledge his guilt or express any remorse for his actions. His attorneys had requested a sentence of house arrest, citing Cosby’s poor health and functional blindness, but the court did not agree. Cosby plans to appeal his conviction and sentence, and could conceivably stay free on bail until his appeals are resolved, though the court may deny the request that he be free pending his appeal.

This sentence is near the top end of the Pennsylvania sentencing guidelines for Cosby. Indeed, the guidelines recommended a sentence of between 22 and 36 months, and Cosby essentially got a sentence of 36 to 120 months. This case illustrates a few issues, probably, as it relates to sentencing. First, remaining defiant in the face of sentencing may feel good to a defendant, but judges hate it. The best way to get leniency is to show remorse and ask forgiveness, and the opposite is absolutely true as well. Cosby may think he is going to be vindicated on appeal, but frankly, I would bet a lot of money that he will not. So, copping an attitude like he did throughout the post-conviction and sentencing phase almost certainly did nothing but cost him a few of his precious remaining years of life in jail. Any smart defendant knows that even if he feels like he was wrongly convicted, the best thing to do at sentencing is say you’re sorry to the judge and victim. Cosby does not appear to be a smart defendant.

Second, judges are human, and this case might demonstrate that. Although he is not supposed to the evidence of Cosby’s prior alleged misdeeds and sexual assaults of other victims (some of whom testified at Cosby’s trial in support of Andrea Constand’s complaint), the judge probably factored those things into consideration in concluding that he was a sexually violent predator worthy of serious detention. It would have been understandably difficult for the judge to ignore those other purported complainants, not to mention the dozens of others who have publicly come forward.

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Last week, the criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Matthew Galluzzo persuaded the prosecutors at the Brooklyn DA.’s office to dismiss serious Rape in the First Degree charges levied against our client. Matthew Galluzzo, a former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor, carefully presented to the prosecutors his client’s version of events along with evidence of the complainant’s repeated lies and motive to fabricate the allegation. The prosecutors were convinced of our client’s innocence and dismissed the charges. Our client, a foreign student earning a graduate degree in the U.S. with an F1 visa, was thus able to obtain his OPT extension after the dismissal of the charges. He is now elated to be finishing his studies and finding work in America.

If you or a loved one have been accused of rape or sexual assault, you should strongly consider contacting the experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Matthew Galluzzo. Matthew Galluzzo, in particular, is a former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor and nationally-recognized expert on sex crimes investigations whose opinion on pending cases has been solicited by radio, television, and print news sources around the world.

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The case of Jamill Jones and whether he should be charged with homicide.

Recently, an unfortunate tragedy occurred in Queens resulting in a man’s death. A tourist from Florida named Sandor Szabo requested an Uber to take him from a family member’s wedding. In an apparently intoxicated effort to find his Uber, Mr. Szabo banged on several nearby cars with his fists. He eventually banged on the car belonging to Jamill Jones, an assistant coach for the Wake Forest University men’s basketball team. Mr. Jones got out of his car and punched Szabo one time in the face. Szabo fell to the ground and hit his head on the pavement. Jones drove away. Szabo was taken to the hospital and later died from the injury. See “Wake Forest coach could face murder charges,” NY Post, August 10, 2018.

Jones was identified and surrendered himself to police. As of yet, he has only been charged with a misdemeanor assault in violation of Penal Law Section 120.00 (Assault in the Third Degree, to be precise). That charge makes it a crime, punishable by up to one year in prison, to intentionally cause physical injury to another person. This is a typical charge for a single punch to the face. The fact that Mr. Szabo tragically died, however, makes the situation more complicated from a legal perspective. The New York Post article suggests that Mr. Jones could face murder charges, but that is perhaps imprecise or incorrect. Murder charges (such as the most common charge of Murder in the Second Degree, in violation of Penal Law Section 125.25) would require a showing that Jones not only killed Szabo, but that he intended to kill Szabo. That seems unlikely given that he only punched Szabo once.

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The New York District Attorney’s Office recently announced that a Manhattan grand jury has indicted Harvey Weinstein for additional sexual assault charges relating to a third complainant. Specifically, Mr. Weinstein is facing an additional charge of Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree (Penal Law Section 130.50). Mr. Weinstein was already facing a charge of Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree based upon the allegation that he had forced a different woman to perform oral sex upon him against her will, and a separate count of Rape in the First Degree for allegedly raping a second complainant. Interestingly, he is also now facing two counts of Predatory Sexual Assault (Penal Law Section 130.95). These new charges significantly alter the forecast for Mr. Weinstein and seriously hamper his defense for tactical reasons discussed below.

Predatory Sexual Assault charges are very serious Class A-II felonies. They carry mandatory minimum prison sentences of ten years in jail, and a conviction for this crime carries a mandatory maximum sentence of life in prison. (Thus, for example, a person sentenced to an indeterminate prison sentence of ten years to life would be eligible for parole after roughly ten years, and if granted parole would then be on parole for the rest of his life.) These charges can apply in a variety of circumstances, but here, they have been applied because he is accused of committing the crimes of Rape in the First Degree or Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree against multiple people. See Penal Law Section 130.95(2). Basically, Mr. Weinstein would be convicted of this charge if it is proven that he in fact sexually assaulted more than one of the complainants. (There are two Predatory Sexual Assault counts that presumably apply to different combinations of complainants in this matter).

These charges have an important practical effect on the case (notwithstanding these potential penalties). Specifically, in order to get convictions on these charges, the prosecutor would now have to prove at trial that Weinstein assaulted more than one of the three current complainants in the case. It might at first seem that the prosecutors have made their jobs more difficult by adding these charges, but in actuality, this new evidentiary necessity thwarts an anticipated defense strategy for trial severance.

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