Trials & Litigation

Feds used 'big fish' to 'testify down'; risky strategy led to acquittals of 2 lawyers

A rare and risky trial practice has been front and center in two recent federal trials in New York City, resulting in the acquittals of two lawyers and another defendant who had faced 35 counts in one of the two cases.

Using cooperating “big fish” as witnesses to “testify down” about lesser fry, the feds put the admitted shooter on the stand against two cohort robbers in a fatal stickup. And, in another trial across the hall on the sixth floor of the downtown Brooklyn federal courthouse, a contractor and a housing official who admitted they’d been involved in millions of dollars in bribes testified against a real estate developer and two attorney business partners accused of soliciting $450,000, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports.

Although the robbers were convicted, the trial tactic apparently backfired in the case of developer Stevenson Dunn and his business partners, attorneys Lee Hymowitz and Michael Freeman. Jurors not only acquitted them but many waited for the defendants after the verdict was announced to congratulate them.

An unidentified law enforcement officer with knowledge of both cases told the newspaper that using the main culprit in admitted crimes to testify against claimed associates serves the interest of justice.

“It’s not like they win the lottery by cooperating … they have to plead guilty to everything they do,” the official said. “There are no sweetheart deals.”

See also: “Jury acquits 2 lawyers and developer in federal housing kickback case”

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