Hundreds of law enforcement officials and New York City employees whose phone conversations were picked up on a former Brooklyn prosecutor’s illegal wiretaps may be entitled to thousands of dollars in damages, attorneys have alleged in a proposed class action filed in federal court.
Tara Lenich, who worked as deputy bureau chief in charge of investigations for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, was sentenced in February to one year in prison after admitting that she forged judges’ signatures to obtain wiretap orders to listen in on the phone conversations of a fellow prosecutor and a New York City police detective for a period of about 18 months.
But relatives of Lenich’s two surveillance targets, police detective Jarrett Lemieux and now-former Brooklyn prosecutor Stephanie Rosenfeld, allege in their proposed class action, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, that Lenich likely listened to the phone conversations of at least 700 other people, inside and outside of law enforcement, who had voice or text exchanges with Lemieux and Rosenfeld during that period.
Under the Wiretap Act, anyone whose phone conversations were subject to Lenich’s eavesdropping could be entitled to up to $10,000 in statutory damages, said Richard Emery of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, one of the attorneys for Danielle Rosenfeld, Rosenfeld’s sister; and Vincent Garcia, Lemieux’s uncle.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys also allege that Lenich was able to conduct her surveillance operation in “plain view” of her supervisors at the Brooklyn DA’s office because of lax oversight: they allege that, had they been keeping proper records of her wiretap activities, they would have learned that she was conducting an unauthorized investigation from June 2015 until her arrest in November 2016.
Additionally, the plaintiffs allege, the Brooklyn DA’s office did not submit records about its wiretapping activities to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, which they say is required by state and federal law, during the years that Lenich was conducting the illegal operation.
Emery said the failure to submit the wiretap information, which was gathered in 2014 and 2017—the years before and after Lenich’s illegal wiretap operation—shows that the Brooklyn DA’s office harbors a “cavalier attitude about wiretaps.”
The Brooklyn DA’s office referred questions to the city’s Law Department.
“We’ll review the complaints and respond accordingly,” a Law Department spokesman said.
Eric Creizman of Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht, who represents Lenich in a civil suit that Stephanie Rosenfeld filed last year, said he had not yet carefully reviewed the two suits, but said “we will defend these claims vigorously, both on issues of law and fact.”
In addition to Emery, Emery Celli attorney Samuel Shapiro and Wiggin and Dana attorneys James Glasser and Tadhg A.J. Dooley represent the proposed class.
Wiggin and Dana also represents Lemieux, who has since retired from the NYPD, in a new suit filed in the Eastern District in which, similar to the proposed class, he alleges that Lenich was able to conduct her surveillance operation because of the Brooklyn DA’s “custom of deliberate indifference” toward wiretaps.