Criminal Justice

Three lawyers are accused of paying criminal justice staffer to send wealthy defendants to them

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Three lawyers and a paralegal have been accused in an indictment of bribing a public official to steer wealthy criminal defendants to them based on a promise of a speedier arraignment.

The defendants allegedly paid more than $40,000 to the employee between August 2013 and September 2014, report the New York Times, the New York Daily News and the New York Law Journal. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced the indictments on Monday. A press release is here and arraignment sheets with detailed allegations are here (PDF) and here (PDF).

Prosecutors say the paralegal paid bribes for the lawyers ranging from $200 to $1,000 per week to an employee of the New York Criminal Justice Agency, a nonprofit that has a contract with New York City to conduct interviews of defendants awaiting arraignment to make bail recommendations. The lawyers sought wealthy clients charged with lower-level crimes, prosecutors say. The employee gave selected defendants business cards for the lawyers along with two quarters to make a call. The lawyers charged clients $1,500 for an arraignment appearance.

The lawyers’ contacts included a police officer who would take the lawyers’ new clients out of booking immediately and a court clerk who would make sure the case was called quickly, prosecutors say.

The defendants are lawyers Jae Lee, Dwane Smith and Benjamin Yu, and paralegal Jose Nunez. They are charged with bribery and conspiracy. Prosecutors claim Yu received more than 100 clients from the CJA employee, but asked Lee to begin taking the cases after learning of an investigation. Lee allegedly received at least 13 clients through the scheme while Smith allegedly received more than 50 clients.

All the defendants pleaded not guilty on Monday.

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