Criminal Justice

Former paralegal in federal prosecution office is convicted for outing witnesses

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A former paralegal at the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey was convicted Tuesday based on accusations that she outed cooperating witnesses against her gang member son.

Tawanna Hilliard was convicted by federal jurors in Brooklyn, New York City, on charges of witness retaliation, conspiracy to commit witness retaliation, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, according to a Department of Justice press release and a story by Law360.

Hilliard’s son and co-defendant, Tyquan Hilliard, pleaded guilty in November 2020 to witness tampering conspiracy in the same scheme. He was sentenced to 63 months in prison. He is also serving a 10-year sentence for robbing a cellphone store in May 2018, the crime in which witnesses were outed.

The witnesses are identified as Jane and John Doe in the DOJ press release. They had participated in the robbery with Tyquan Hilliard and gave recorded statements to police after their robbery arrests.

Tawanna Hilliard obtained the discovery in her son’s robbery case, including the recorded statements. She discussed the videos in recorded phone calls with her incarcerated son. She also uploaded John Doe’s statement to the internet under the title, “NYC Brim Gang Member SNITCHING! Pt. 1,” prosecutors said.

In another recorded phone call, Tyquan Hilliard asked his mother to send the Jane Doe video to one of his gang associates. The video was uploaded by a different user.

Jane and John Doe received death threats after the videos were posted, prosecutors said.

Tawanna Hilliard’s lawyer, Ezra Spilke, had argued at trial that his client was a loving mother who was trying to engage with her troubled son, according to Law360. Spilke said John Doe wrongly accused Tyquan Hilliard of cooperating with police, creating a volatile situation for him in jail.

Tawanna Hilliard wanted to correct the record, but she didn’t support the gang.

“She wasn’t a paralegal by day and a secret gang defender by night,” Spilke said.

Tawanna Hilliard had worked in the civil division of the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey for nine years. The indictment had said she obtained the information disclosed to her son through searches of government computers.

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