A secretary to Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines, was not deprived of a fair trial when a lower court found the secretary guilty of criminal tax fraud over the secret sale of a Monet painting that had been in the Marcos home, the state’s highest court ruled on Thursday.
Vilma Bautista, who served as Marcos’ personal secretary in New York, had appealed (NYLJ Sept. 12) a prison term of two to six years on tax fraud, false filing and conspiracy counts that was imposed in November 2013 by Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Renee White in People v. Bautista, 4930/12.
In October 2015, the Appellate Division, First Department, vacated the conspiracy conviction (NYLJ Oct. 27, 2015) because White erred in reciting to the jury an opinion issued by the Supreme Court of the Philippines, which claimed that $658 million in assets held by Marcos belonged to the Philippines.
The court affirmed, however, that Bautista was not deprived of a fair trial as a result of the prosecutor’s summation arguments that a tax attorney told Bautista to declare her income from the sale. The court had ruled that the interview notes were not Brady material.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division’s ruling that “Bautista was not deprived of a fair trial by the prosecutor’s remarks in summation, as they reflected arguments that were fairly inferable from the evidence adduced at trial.”
The memorandum by the court also agreed with the Appellate Division’s ruling that the interview notes were not Brady material because the notes “were not exculpatory as to defendant’s convictions of criminal tax fraud in the first degree and offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree.”
Bautista’s attorney, Nathan Dershowitz, said he was “extremely disappointed” in the Court of Appeals’ decision.
“The saddest part of this is that you have a woman who is almost 90, has serious heart problems, survived cervical cancer and now she’s facing two to six years in prison,” Dershowitz said during a phone interview.
“Why does the system require that she goes to prison?” he added, telling the New York Law Journal that he and Bautista will be making “some decisions” on whether they will petition for a rehearing from the court or talking to the District Attorney’s Office.
Garrett Lynch of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, represented the People in the case.
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Judges Jenny Rivera, Leslie Stein, Eugene Fahey, Michael Garcia, Rowan Wilson and Paul Feinman concurred with the order.