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In a dramatic reversal, the U.S. Attorney’s Office late last week backed off its effort to block the unsealing of confidential government documents on alleged misconduct in the Newton Street Crew prosecution. On Dec. 12, the government withdrew its motion asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to stop U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly from unsealing the sensitive materials. For years, the prosecutors office has resisted making these documents public. Channing Phillips, chief of staff to U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard Jr., declines to explain why the office shifted course. The decision comes in the wake of newly unsealed defense documents alleging the lead prosecutor in the Newton Street case doled out more than $100,000 in questionable witness payments and that informants engaged in heroin smuggling and sex at the D.C. federal courthouse during the crew’s 1994 trial. The new details were brought to light in recent weeks when Kollar-Kotelly ordered documents — some of them sealed since 1999 — to be made a matter of public record. Among the revelations: Kollar-Kotelly’s own order, dated May 9, that information contained in a confidential Justice Department report scrutinizing the actions of lead Newton Street prosecutor G. Paul Howes be turned over to the D.C., New Mexico, and California bars, where Howes is licensed to practice. Howes, now a partner at the San Diego office of plaintiffs firm Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, is accused in the newly unsealed defense documents of improperly using federal witness vouchers to keep morale high among cooperating witnesses who were incarcerated. The defense claims Howes paid friends and relatives of the jailed witnesses to come to the courthouse during the six-month trial. Prosecutorial misconduct and other wrongdoing during the trial of the notorious D.C. crack cocaine gang led to its top four leaders — Mark Hoyle, John McCollough, Mario Harris, and Anthony Goldston — having their life sentences dramatically reduced in a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office last year. Until now, much of the Newton Street Crew post-trial investigation — including a report prepared by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) — has remained confidential as a result of a gag order imposed by the original trial judge, Thomas Penfield Jackson. But on Nov. 12, in response to a motion filed by a lawyer investigating alleged prosecutorial misconduct in a related case, Judge Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the seal be lifted and ordered the government and defense teams to refile their post-trial motions to become part of the public record by Dec. 1. The U.S. Attorney’s Office appealed Kollar-Kotelly’s order, and the D.C. Circuit issued a last-minute stay. Before the stay was issued, a couple hundred pages of previously sealed documents were made public. Despite giving up its fight to block Kollar-Kotelly’s order, it remains unclear when or to what extent the government will make its court papers public. Kollar-Kotelly’s Nov. 26 order stated that the government could redact the names of witnesses whose lives would be in jeopardy if disclosed, but prosecutors must explain to the judge why it is doing so. Included in the recently unsealed filings is the defendants’ 79-page summary judgment motion, detailing numerous allegations in which the U.S. Attorney’s Office authorized witness payments to families and friends of cooperating witnesses during and after the course of the Newton Street investigation and trial. The court papers also allege instances in which incarcerated cooperators were handed witness vouchers on the day they were released from prison. The 1999 defense motion summarizes the findings of the 86-page OPR report and interviews conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to the recently unsealed defense papers, the OPR report found that Howes: • “[U]sed witness vouchers as his own discretionary fund.” • “[H]ad payments made to cooperating witnesses . . . upon their release from incarceration.” • Paid family members of informants after their relatives were released from prison. • Misled “the court, the jury and the defense when he caused plea agreements to be entered into evidence” that claimed informants could not be paid for their testimony. “The government concedes that Paul Howes had knowledge of these activities and suggests that others on the prosecution team and supervisors may have been aware of the use of vouchers and while not condoning the activities did not report it to the court or the defense,” the defendants’ summary judgment motion states. In addition to the alleged voucher fraud, the defense claims that the OPR report and FBI interviews documented a series of occasions in which incarcerated government witnesses allegedly smoked marijuana, smuggled heroin, drank alcohol, watched pornographic videos, and had sex in the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse while being held in witness rooms during the trial. In 2000, then-U.S. Attorney Wilma Lewis publicly stated that the other two Newton Street prosecutors — Lynn Leibovitz and Jeffrey Ragsdale — had been cleared of any wrongdoing by the OPR report. Her statement did not address Howes. Howes, who left the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1995 for Milberg Weiss, did not return calls last week seeking comment. In a written statement, Phillips of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said, “While it would be inappropriate to comment on this specific matter because of the ongoing litigation, it goes without saying that, as a general principle, this Office does not condone acts of prosecutorial misconduct by its Assistant U.S. Attorneys. Whenever it is determined that a matter was handled inappropriately, we take the necessary steps to prevent its reoccurrence.” Ragsdale referred calls to Phillips. Leibovitz, now a D.C. Superior Court judge, declines comment. Some of the defense lawyers who worked on the Newton Street case say they are relieved that much of the case is being made public — noting that it has been seven years since Judge Jackson issued a protective order sealing most of the post-trial material. “To finally be able to say that this happened, it is astounding,” says D.C. lawyer John Carney, who represents Goldston. Says Jensen Barber, who represents Hoyle: “It should have been done a long time ago.” Barber notes that a handful of Newton Street defendants prosecuted by Howes in trials that featured some of the same government witnesses are still serving lengthy sentences. “I think the court needs to revisit everybody” from the Newton Street prosecutions, Barber says. At least two other Newton Street defendants have new-trial motions pending before Kollar-Kotelly. Sandra Levick, a lawyer at the D.C. Public Defender Service who filed the motion requesting that the materials be unsealed, declines comment. Levick represents Antoine Rice, who was prosecuted by Howes and convicted in D.C. Superior Court just before the Newton Street trial. Levick has filed a new-trial motion claiming that Howes authorized thousands of dollars in improper witness vouchers to those who cooperated with the government in her client’s case. HEROIN AND HOT DOGS In October 1995, a federal jury found that Hoyle, McCollough, Goldston, and Harris committed the infamous “Triple Duct Tape Murders” along with other racketeering, drug, and weapons offenses. The six-month trial included about 10 cooperating witnesses who had cut plea deals with the government. These witnesses were used to tie the defendants directly to the triple murder and to the drug organization. Jackson sentenced all four defendants to multiple life terms with no hope for parole. The D.C. Circuit affirmed their convictions. Other alleged lower-level members of the Newton Street Crew had either pleaded guilty or were found guilty in separate trials. In February 1996, Robert “Blue Tip” Smith, a drug dealer turned government informant, told the FBI about misconduct during the trial. Smith, the brother of McCollough, passed a polygraph test, according to defense papers. The FBI then interviewed three other cooperating witnesses, friends and relatives of these informants, and at least one former D.C. police officer who received witness money, according to defense papers. According to the defense, Smith said the aunt of witness Kenneth Forgy smuggled heroin onto the sixth floor of the courthouse in four bags hidden in a hot dog. Smith said that, during the trial, witnesses housed together in the same room at the courthouse watched videos. One of those videos was a home movie in which a member of the D.C. go-go band Rare Essence engaged in oral sex with a fan. According to Smith, the police officers guarding the witnesses watched the video. When he was released from prison in May 1995, Smith said, a D.C. police officer met him outside the federal courthouse and handed him an envelope containing a federal witness voucher worth $160. The cop told Smith the money was from Howes, the defense papers state. The voucher noted that he was being paid for four days of testimony in a related drug case — a case Smith said he did not testify in. In total, the defense estimates that Smith received around $3,600 in government money. The unsealed defense papers say that Donnie Price, who was incarcerated, admitted to smuggling marijuana into the courthouse in his shoe and that his girlfriend received around $2,500 in government money, according to the defense. Shelton Brooks Seldon, who was also in custody, said his girlfriend brought some liquor to him on the sixth floor of the courthouse in a Pepsi cup, the court papers say. He later changed his story to say that he did not drink any of it and that the liquor was in a wax cup. Seldon also said he had sexual encounters with a woman at the courthouse on three occasions during the trial. On a more mundane level, Seldon said witnesses were allowed to use the telephone at the courthouse to make long-distance calls. He said his aunt once brought him chicken at the courthouse. Defense lawyers claim these facts reveal how far the prosecution went to keep witnesses happy. According to the court papers, Seldon’s friends and relatives received about $6,000 in witness fees. Seldon’s girlfriend received more than $1,000 in government payments even though she was never called as a witness during the trial. The family of cooperator Frank Lynch IV received nearly $26,000 in witness money, according to defense court papers. Lynch’s sister gave some of that money to her incarcerated brother by depositing it in his jail canteen account. Lynch received a witness voucher for $200 when he was released from jail in April 1995, the court papers state. William Woodfork, another government informant, told investigators that witnesses were allowed to meet alone with guests in the courthouse’s copy room for half-hour periods. Woodfork and his family received about $10,600 from the government, according to the defense.

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