from the give-'em-enough-leash dept
Last time we checked in with (former) Brooklyn prosecutor Tara Lenich, she was facing state charges for abusing wiretap warrants to listen in on conversations between a police detective and one of her colleagues. This stemmed from what was termed a “personal entanglement” between her and the detective.
The wiretap warrants couldn’t be obtained without a judge’s signature. Since there was no probable cause for the warrant, no judge would sign them. Lenich had a solution. She just forged the judge’s signature on the warrant. And then she kept forging judges’ signatures, stretching out her illicit surveillance for more than a year, with a faked signature on every 30-day renewal.
Lenich is now facing federal charges. An indictment handed down by DOJ pretty much repeats the allegation of the state charges, detailing Lenich’s long-running, extremely-personal wiretap operation.
As alleged in the indictment, for nearly 16 months between approximately June 2015 and November 2016, Lenich created fraudulent judicial orders as part of her illegal wiretapping scheme. Specifically, she forged the signatures of multiple New York State judges onto the illicitly created judicial orders — orders that purportedly authorized the KCDA to intercept communications occurring over two cellular telephones. Lenich then misappropriated KCDA equipment to intercept, monitor, and record the communications to and from the two cellular telephones. In furtherance of her scheme, Lenich also created fraudulent search warrants, which she then used to unlawfully obtain text messages relating to the two cellular telephones.
Prosecutors have plenty of power and plenty of tools at their disposal. At some point, they’ll be abused. Sometimes the damage is minimal and goes unnoticed. Other times, the abuse is discovered inadvertently. Inevitably, when the discovery is made, it’s always something that’s been happening for months or years, rather than a recent one-off where someone just made a very poor decision.
This time it’s federal prosecutors who may be facing charges for illegal eavesdropping. It’s not just a few prosecutors and a few isolated cases of misconduct. As Justin Glawe reports for The Daily Beast, it’s an entire prosecutors’ office and a whole lot of illegal activity.
A court-appointed investigator has found that the United States Attorney’s Office for Kansas is in possession of hundreds of phone and video recordings of communications between attorneys and their clients, inmates at a privately run prison facility in Leavenworth.
At least 700 attorneys are believed to have been recorded without their knowledge, the investigator’s report submitted to a federal court said. Last week Special Master David Cohen asked to expand his probe to determine whether prosecutors regularly listened to and compiled attorney-client conversations. Already, 227 phone call recordings and at least 30 videos of attorney-client meetings have been discovered in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas City.
These recordings, captured by Securus equipment and obtained by prosecutors from private prison company CoreCivic, contained privileged conversations between inmates and their legal representatives. The US Attorney’s dirty little eavesdropping secret was exposed when it hauled in a defense lawyer to accuse her of wrongdoing.
Jackie Rokusek told The Daily Beast she was called to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Kansas City last August, where she said she was told by prosecutors that they had video evidence of her providing her client with confidential information about a drug ring case. Rokusek was given a computer and she watched the video, then she says she accidentally clicked on another file. A window opened, and a video showing another attorney meeting with their client at Leavenworth played. Stunned, Rokusek immediately went to the Federal Public Defender’s office in Kansas City and told them what she’d found.
Prosecutors were hoping to push Rokusek towards recusing herself from a case with this supposedly-damning recording. Instead, it showed federal prosecutors had been listening in on discussions between defense attorneys and their clients and possibly using these to stack the prosecution deck.
It’s common knowledge prison phone calls and personal visits are recorded. Signs are posted prominently in prisons informing inmates and visitors of this fact. But just because recordings exist doesn’t mean prosecutors can avail themselves of privileged conversations between lawyers and clients. Everything else is fair game.
But the recordings do exist. Securus and CoreCivic aren’t going to shut off cameras and mics simply because there’s a lawyer involved. And if the recordings exist, sooner or later someone’s going to abuse this access. The only side that has this access is the prosecution. The side with the most power can eavesdrop with the willing assistance of those in the incarceration business. If they’re careful, this abuse could go on indefinitely. If not, they’ll enjoy a good run of slanted prosecutions before the hammer falls.