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.