Leonel Polanco-Colon and his new lawyer, Timothy Parlatore. Inset is his former attorney, Ronald J. Meltzer (NY Daily News)
A man who admitted in Manhattan Supreme Court Thursday to lying at his drunken driving trial said that his defense attorney told him to fabricate facts in order to beat the charges.
While pleading guilty to felony first-degree perjury and misdemeanor fifth-degree conspiracy charges (See Indictment), Leonel Polanco-Colon called out his former lawyer, Ronald J. Meltzer of Manhattan, for telling him “that the cops were going to lie and the only way to win was for me to lie as well.”
At the attorney’s direction, Polanco-Colon said, he, Meltzer and co-defendant Luis Nunez “made up a story that wasn’t true to present at my trial.”
Meltzer has not been charged in the perjury case and rejected his former client’s allegations. Meltzer’s attorney, Patrick Brackley of Manhattan, said in an interview that Polanco-Colon “is a soon to be convicted perjurer. Anything he says should be treated as such.”
Brackley said he understood that no action would be taken against Meltzer by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. A spokesperson for the office would not comment on Brackley’s statement or the guilty plea.
Meltzer, admitted to the bar in 1990, is a graduate of Northwestern University School of Law and has a masters of law in taxation from New York University School of Law. He is a member of the National College for DUI Defense.
Polanco-Colon’s attorney in the perjury case, Timothy Parlatore of Manhattan, said in an interview after the proceedings that his client would be filing a complaint with the Appellate Division, First Department’s Departmental Disciplinary Committee. He also said they were considering a legal malpractice suit against Meltzer.
Polanco-Colon, 33, received “awful advice” from his prior counsel that was “completely, totally unnecessary,” Parlatore said.
“Defense attorneys have a bad enough reputation as is,” he said.
In the underlying matter, Polanco-Colon was acquitted in June 2012 of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. During the three-day trial, he and Nunez testified they were together the night of the arrest, and that Nunez was the designated driver.
But in the statement he read aloud while pleading guilty, Polanco-Colon, an active duty petty officer first class in the U.S. Navy, said “although we both testified otherwise, Mr. Nunez and I were never together the night of August 16, 2011, leading into the morning of August 17, 2011, which is when I was arrested for DWI.”
He told the court that he realized saying “my lawyer told me to do it” was not an excuse, “and I regret listening to his advice when I should have done the right thing.”
Under the terms of Polanco-Colon’s plea, he will be sentenced to a conditional discharge but must perform 100 hours of community service and write a letter to the jurors in the underlying matter that explains and apologizes for the perjury.
First degree perjury is a felony that’s punishable with a maximum sentence of 2 1/3 to 7 years.
Manhattan prosecutors did not oppose a defense request that the court issue a certificate of relief from civil disabilities, which spares him of bars on employment that would otherwise automatically apply because of his felony convictions.
The drunken driving case is sealed and cannot be re-opened despite the perjury plea, Parlatore said.
Polanco-Colon pleaded guilty before Acting Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus, who did not address the allegations against Meltzer.
Polanco-Colon is scheduled for sentencing in People v. Polanco-Colon, 03240-2013, on April 17.
Nunez’s case is pending, and he is due in court on March 27.
Parlatore said the perjury case started when a detective trailed Polanco-Colon outside the courtroom the day after he concluded his testimony.
Polanco-Colon’s driver’s license was suspended pending the outcome of the drunken driving case, and the detective was following him to ensure he was not driving, Parlatore said.
The detective saw Polanco-Colon meet Nunez and Meltzer in a nearby coffee shop.
In his statement to Obus, Polanco-Colon said the trio met after court that day “because I had messed up in following the script and Mr. Meltzer wanted to talk with Mr. Nunez to ensure that he altered his testimony to match mine.”
The next day, prosecutors asked Nunez if he met with anyone after proceedings concluded the day before. Nunez said he had not.
Nunez’s denial “raised the radar” in the district attorney’s office, and before he and Polanco-Colon were indicted last summer, Meltzer testified before the grand jury, Parlatore said.
According to Parlatore, in the drunken driving case, police arrested Polanco-Colon when they found him in his parallel-parked car with the ignition on. He said Polanco-Colon had no intention of driving, but was in the running car to charge the battery on his cellphone.
“If he had come to me on the case, I could have tried the case honestly on the facts and probably won an acquittal,” Parlatore said.
Polanco-Colon told reporters his actions were “way out of character” after 14 years in the military and no disciplinary problems. He said he was “trying to do the right thing and take responsibility.”
Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Sigall handled the prosecution’s case.
Nunez is represented by Leslie Jones Thomas, who did not respond to a request for comment.
Paul Shechtman of Zuckerman Spaeder, who is not involved in the case, said “perjury is not a commonplace charge in New York State. Many observers would say that the amount of false testimony exceeds the amount of perjury charges by orders of magnitude.”
Shechtman noted both prosecutors and defense were “not trying that many cases and, oftentimes, cases come down to ‘he said, she said.’”
Those scenarios do not make for perjury cases, he said.
According to New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, there were 50 arrests last year where the top arrest charge was perjury in the first, second or third degree. Of those, 10 defendantswound up incarcerated, while two defendants received conditional discharges and one got probation.