A federal jury has acquitted two attorneys and a real estate developer of taking part in a kickback and bribery scheme connected to projects by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
The three defendants—attorneys Lee Hymowitz and Michael M. Freeman of Manhattan and real estate developer Stevenson Dunn—were found not guilty after a three-week trial in the Eastern District and two days of jury deliberations.
The 2011 multi-defendant indictment also had ensnared Wendell Walters, an assistant commissioner at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to accepting $2.5 million in bribes and taking other benefits. Walters, still awaiting sentencing, testified for the prosecution in the recent trial. All other defendants have pleaded guilty.
Though prosecutors argued the kickbacks were disguised in a retainer agreement for a contractor who testified at trial for the government, the attorneys’ defense insisted the retainer at issue, containing about $100,000, was used for lawful services.
Freeman was represented by Gerald DiChiara and Nicholas Pinto. In an interview, Pinto said he was “glad justice was done. Mr. Freeman is anxious to move on with his life.” Hymowitz was represented by Maurice Sercarz and Robert Caliendo of Sercarz & Riopelle. Robert Anthony Evans, Jr. of the Law Offices of Evans and Al Shabazz represented Dunn.
“I couldn’t be more happy than I am right now,” Sercarz said in an interview, noting that he, Hymowitz, Freeman and DiChiara worked together almost 40 years ago in the Legal Aid Society. Sercarz called the case the “most emotional case I ever tried. I represented somebody I knew for all that time, as did Mr. DiChiara. I can’t tell you how hard this was.”
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cristina Posa and Anthony Capozzolo appeared for the prosecution.