Brooklyn Prosecutor Forged Judges' Signatures On Wiretap Warrants To Eavesdrop On A 'Love Interest'

from the rules-are-for-other-people dept

The reason there are so many controls and layers of oversight over wiretap warrants is because the potential for abuse is huge. The FBI abused its wiretap authority for years, which resulted in new restrictions for federal wiretap warrants. The DEA has found a way to route around these, but at the expense of its investigations.

At the state level, the vetting doesn’t appear to be as thorough. An insider who knew the weaknesses in the system abused wiretap warrants to perform some very personal surveillance.

A high-ranking prosecutor in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office was arrested this week on charges that she used an illegal wiretap to spy on a police detective and one of her colleagues in what a law-enforcement official described as a love triangle gone wrong.

The prosecutor, Tara Lenich, was taken into custody on Monday and fired after investigators in the district attorney’s office learned over Thanksgiving weekend that she had conducted the illicit surveillance because of “a personal entanglement between her and the detective,” according to the law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the case.

Give the wrong person enough power and they’re sure to abuse it. Lenich forged judges’ signatures repeatedly to extend her very personal wiretap warrant every 30 days. This allowed her to illegally eavesdrop on conversations for nearly a year. She ducked questions about her wiretap by claiming she was working on a sensititive investigation in conjunction with the NYPD Internal Affairs department.

As defense lawyer Wilson A. LaFaurie points out, a system heavily-reliant on signatures raises some questions about the trustworthiness of that system.

“The public should have a tangible fear of this,” Mr. LaFaurie said. If prosecutors were willing to forge a judge’s signature, he said, they could also potentially manipulate evidence for other cases by forging the signatures of witnesses, crime victims or police detectives.

At least in the cases of the judges whose signatures were forged, those can be verified by asking the judges themselves. In some of the hypothetical cases LaFaurie refers to, there may be no one to ask.

The most disheartening part of this mini-debacle is the responses from the district attorney’s office. The spokesman for the office says an internal review of protocols and guidelines is underway, but says nothing about digging through Lenich’s cases for other possible misconduct. The best protocols and procedures may already be in place, but that’s not going to stop someone determined to abuse their power. And there’s no way to confirm they haven’t abused this power in the past if you’re not willing to examine their body of work.

Lenich’s lawyer’s statement is even worse, although it can be partially forgiven as he’s not acting as an agent of the state.

Gary Farrell, Ms. Lenich’s lawyer, said he did not believe there was “any merit to the claims that these charges somehow impugn wiretaps for other cases.”

Actually, it does impugn wiretaps for other cases, especially in cases overseen by his client. Her lawyer says there’s nothing to see here, which is fine in terms of advocating for a client. But the DA’s office seems to hold the same opinion, which is much more worrisome. Whenever abuse is uncovered, the usual response is to treat it like a unicorn, rather than possibly a leading indicator of malfeasance yet to be uncovered.

Then there’s this:

Mr. Farrell said Ms. Lenich was well known and well liked in Brooklyn legal circles and had a reputation for fairness and professionalism.

Well, not so much now. All it takes is one severe, felonious abuse of the system to undo all of that goodwill and cause collateral damage to the reputation of the office she served.

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Comments on “Brooklyn Prosecutor Forged Judges' Signatures On Wiretap Warrants To Eavesdrop On A 'Love Interest'”

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: There is no room for lapses of judgement.

Part of the problem is that the justice system has no checks or balances for lapses in judgement.

When a judge shows a lapse in judgement innocent people go to prison for life. Innocent people die.

So no, until our system is such that it takes three judges (or nine) to sign a warrant, until the fourth amendment is stringently enforced, until we criminalize use of new technology for detection until it is rigorously tested and regulated, until we tolerate not one false positive dog sniff (or any other test to get probable cause)…

Then no. One incident of a lapse in judgement should disbar a prosecutor, dismissal of a judge, or the firing of an officer with prejudice.

People die from lapses in judgement within our legal system, and for that we have no respect for the legal system. It’s only there because they hold the guns and they use the guns to stay in position.

TripMN says:

Re: Re: Re: Heheheh!

As a layer and prosecutor she lied to the court and/or representatives of the state and forged documents for almost a year so that she could abridge someone’s rights. Every thirty days means she did this at least 10 times. 1 time is a mistake in judgement, 10+ times is a pattern.

So lets talk equivalences.

An MD – 10+ incidences of fondling a patient(s) while they are under anesthetic or are unconscious. The patient(s) never knew their rights were violated, but the Dr. did this on multiple occasions and had multiple “lapses in judgement”. The Dr. should be sent to jail and lose their license, no?

Police Officer – Uses badge to talk local business owners into giving him a little extra so that he responds to calls in their neighborhood faster – patrols more often… you know, soft extortion. The officer does this to 10+ businesses. Once found out, shouldn’t the officer lose his badge and gun, spend some time in jail, and also never be allowed to work as an LEO ever again?

All of these theoretical wrongs contain one common element, abuse of power and trust put in a job/institution. Abusing this power should come with the harshest penalties, not the most lenient.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Heheheh!

Disbarment for life? um no so much.

Yes so much. This was not a minor, one-time event where emotion caused a temporary ‘lapse of judgement’, she repeatedly forged a judge’s signature in order to conduct illegal surveillance of two people over the course of a year.

That goes well beyond an ‘oops’ and into deliberate and flagrant abuse of authority, and makes it clear that she cannot be trusted to have that authority. As such permanent disbarment would be entirely fitting, both as a punishment for her actions and as a message that such activity carries harsh penalties for anyone else considering doing anything similar.

Vidiot (profile) says:

" … a system heavily-reliant on signatures raises some questions about the trustworthiness of that system."

Note that banks and financial institutions… think credit cards… have largely walked away from even requiring, let alone validating, signatures for transactional purposes; they want chip-and-pin or other, higher-security means.

So a scrawled signature is trusted to authorize covert surveillance… but not trusted enough to charge a latte at Starbucks.

Anonymous Coward says:

Doesn't Impugn Wiretaps?

First of all, this impugns not merely wiretaps related Lenich’s cases, but everything touched by Lenich. Every defense attorney for a case on which Lenich has had any remit should file for dismissal (starting position, whether it works or not – make it EXPENSIVE for Brooklyn).

Second, of course this impugns ALL wiretaps in Brooklyn, since obviously wiretaps can be illegally obtained. Every defense attorney for a case current or closed that involves a wiretap should demand a review that demonstrates wiretaps affecting his client were legally obtained (again, make it EXPENSIVE for Brooklyn).

Finally, the title "officer of the court" is not an award in a popularity or beauty contest. No matter how many people like her, Lenich should be disbarred and prosecuted for a raft of crimes related to malfeasance and violations of civil rights.

Anonymous Coward says:

More common than you think.

In the Maryanna Godboldo case, it was found that the social services dept that Mia Wenk was part of, in fact had a rubber stamp of Judge Leslie Kim Smith’s signature, used by worker Marcia Hurst to “authorize” what eventually became a siege of Ms Godboldos home.

In light of this, one must wonder how many of those rubber stamps are lying around – something which defeats the entire purpose, as the whole point of putting warrants and such before a judge is the hope they might actually read them, but if they never even see them….

Anonymous Coward says:

I dont know of any judges that actually keep copies or records of the warrants that are signed. The prosecutor or police go in to the court or chambers, have the judge sign the only copy, and then AFTER the warrant is served, executed, etc, does it get returned and filed.
Most judges could never tell you whether they actually signed a specific warrant.

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