Alexa

US judge grills prosecutors on evidence handling

US judge grills prosecutors on evidence handling

A judge asked federal prosecutors in a major drug-dealing case Tuesday whether they generally mishandle evidence after a second high-profile prosecution fell apart in his courtroom because of witness problems.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said he saw similar prosecutorial mishandling in the dismissed corruption conviction against former Republican Sen. Ted Stevens this spring and now in the Justice Department's move to drop drug charges against Chinese-Mexican businessman Zhenli Ye Gon.
Ye Gon has been jailed for two years on charges of importing methamphetamine from Mexico into the United States. Authorities said they seized more than $205 million from his Mexico City mansion, which they called the largest cash seizure in history related to illegal drugs.
But since his arrest, prosecutors said one witness has recanted and another has refused to testify, and the prosecutors have asked Sullivan to dismiss the case. Sullivan said he will throw out the indictment during a final hearing on July 30, when he also will decide whether to allow prosecutors the option of charging Ye Gon again.
At the hearing, Ye Gon, wearing an orange-and-white striped jail jumpsuit, listened to a simultaneous translation as Sullivan criticized prosecutors for only revealing the witness problems last week even though they have known about them for at least six months.
He said the prosecution belatedly revealed the witness problems despite being required to do so by Justice Department policy and the U.S. Constitution. Meanwhile, he said that without knowing of the problems he repeatedly delayed the trial at the prosecutors' request while Ye Gon was "essentially in solitary confinement" at a Washington jail.
"All of this raises legitimate questions about whether the government ever intended to abide by its constitutional obligations to provide that information to the defendant," Sullivan said.
Ye Gon has since been transferred to a federal lockup in Virginia. Mexico has requested that he be extradited to face organized crime, drug trafficking and weapons charges there.
Mexican officials say Ye Gon was involved in one of the Western hemisphere's largest networks for trafficking pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in methamphetamines. Ye Gon said the chemicals imported by his company, Unimed Pharm Chem de Mexico SA, were legitimate and intended for use in prescription drugs.
Sullivan has ordered a criminal investigation into handling of evidence in the Stevens case. Prosecutors admitted after a jury returned a guilty verdict that they did not turn over important witness statements that could have aided the former senator's defense.
Sullivan gave prosecutors 10 days to file a written response answering his concerns about their handling of the Ye Gon case. Among his concerns was how their conduct fit with Attorney General Eric Holder's statement after dismissing the charges against Stevens that prosecutors should be more concerned with justice than winning cases.
He also asked whether the Justice Department's approach is to withhold information from defendants in criminal prosecutions and then dismiss the cases if they get caught.
"That would be shocking," Sullivan said.
Paul O'Brien, chief of the Justice Department's narcotics section, disputed Sullivan's characterizations of the prosecution and said he hoped a written response will help "educate the court."
"I believe some of the characterizations may not be accurate," O'Brien said. Sullivan responded that he was not making any legal findings yet but raising points for the prosecutors to address.


Updated : 2021-02-27 18:20 GMT+08:00