Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has moved to make public the identities of seven former Dewey & LeBoeuf staffers who have pleaded guilty to criminal charges in connection with an alleged accounting fraud that three former Dewey leaders and a fourth firm employee are accused of engineering.
Responding to motions filed March 15 in state supreme court in Manhattan in which The New York Times asked that the cases involving six of the so-called Doe defendants be unsealed, Vance filed his own motion [PDF] Monday rejecting the newspaper’s push as invalid while urging the court to end the mystery over which ex-Dewey staffers may be preparing to testify against the four men charged March 6 with hatching a massive scheme that helped drive the firm into bankruptcy in May 2012. (In the wake of the Times’ motions, ALM Media LLC, the parent and publisher of The Am Law Daily, made its own request of the court that the cases be unsealed.)
Those four defendants—former Dewey chair Steven Davis, former executive director Stephen DiCarmine, ex-chief financial officer Joel Sanders and former client relationship manager Zachary Warren—have their own interest in finding out who the potential cooperating witnesses are and the nature of their agreements with Vance’s office.
On Tuesday, attorneys for two of the defendants—all of whom have denied any wrongdoing—welcomed the Times’ bid to make the names public and Vance’s request that the seven cases be unsealed, with the exception of one document. The defense lawyers also said they were poised to make a similar move.
“It’s certainly highly unusual to have sealed pleas in a case like this to begin with,” said Elkan Abramowitz, a Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello partner who is representing Davis in the case. “It was inevitable that he would have to release them sooner rather than later.”
Abramowitz and Bryan Cave partner Austin Campriello, who is representing DiCarmine, said they expect the pleas to be unsealed prior to the next status conference in the case, which is scheduled for April 21.
“I very much look forward to learning who pleaded guilty and what they admitted to doing,” Campriello said.
The identities of the five men and two women referred to in court records only as John or Jane Doe have been the focus of much speculation since the 106-count indictment charging Davis, DiCarmine, Sanders and Warren with multiple felony counts was unsealed.
The Am Law Daily reported on March 11 that because they are named as key players in the scheme in a parallel civil case brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, former Dewey finance director Francis Canellas and former controller Thomas Mullikin are likely among those who have reached plea agreements in the matter. Lawyers for both men declined to comment when contacted. Citing anonymous sources, the Times subsequently reported that Canellas and Mullikin have indeed pleaded guilty to committing crimes, as has former Dewey director of budgeting and planning Ilya Alter. (Sibling publication the New York Law Journal reports that Alter is being represented by high-profile criminal defense attorney Benjamin Brafman.)
Meanwhile, as The Am Law Daily reported on March 20, one former Dewey insider who has not pleaded guilty in connection with his time at the firm, but may testify if Davis, DiCarmine, Sanders and Warren go to trial, is the firm’s former chief operating officer, Dennis D’Alessandro.
As for what the seven yet-to-be-identified individuals have admitted to, court filings show that one John Doe had pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree grand larceny (a crime involving the theft of more than $50,000); another has pleaded guilty to one count of the same crime; a third has pleaded guilty to a single count of the lesser felony of first-degree scheming to defraud; a fourth has pleaded guilty to one count of making a false entry in business records, a misdemeanor; and the fifth has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of second-degree scheming to defraud.
Of the Jane Doe defendants, one has pleaded guilty to a single felony count of first-degree scheming to defraud, while the second has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of making a false entry in business records.
Sentences for the most serious felonies to which the seven have admitted range from probation up to 15 years in prison, according to New York sentencing guidelines. By contrast, Davis, DiCarmine, Sanders and Warren face scores of the first-degree felony grand larceny and fraud counts, many of them involving sums greater than $1 million and punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
Orders to seal guilty pleas are typically only used in state criminal courts when allegedly violent criminals are being prosecuted and there is reason to believe that exposing a witness’ identity could put him or her at risk, says Kobre & Kim partner Eric Snyder, a former state and federal prosecutor in the city.
But Snyder notes that state prosecutors can also ask that plea agreements be sealed if they are concerned about potential witness-tampering. Prosecutors, he says, “are likely trying to guard against any influencing or meddling with the cooperating witnesses.”
If and when the cases are unsealed, the defendants’ attorneys are likely to be particularly interested in plea transcripts that capture those who have pleaded guilty recounting the circumstances surrounding their crimes and the level of their cooperation with prosecutors.
Such transcripts, Snyder says, provide a quick snapshot of the prosecution’s case, rather then a detailed road map. “What a defense counsel will want to know is who pled guilty, what they admitted to doing, and whether or not there is any reference to a plea agreement or a cooperation agreement,” says Snyder.
Vance’s filing offers no hint about whether any of the seven are cooperating. The bulk of the motion is devoted to rebutting the Times’ move to open the cases to public scrutiny. Vance argues that the newspaper does not cite a proper legal basis for intervening in the case; that compelling the government to make public the basis for requesting that the pleas be sealed could reveal sensitive information still entitled to remain confidential; and that the public’s right to access trial documents “is not absolute” and counterbalanced in this instance by other interests, such as the “government’s interest in inhibiting disclosure of sensitive information.”
Seven paragraphs of the filing are redacted, as are two exhibits. Vance notes in the filing that unredacted copies that include the exhibits were provided to counsel for the seven unnamed people who have taken guilty pleas.