A mess grows in Brooklyn

NY Daily News
November 16, 2013

With the defeat of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes after six terms in office, there appeared to be little reason to comment further on his misrule of the city’s largest prosecution office. No such luck.

His last years were shadowed by a long failure to effectively prosecute sex abuse in the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, a powerful voting bloc; by accusations (taken seriously by two federal judges) that top lieutenant Michael Vecchione had railroaded a man named Jabbar Collins for a rabbi’s murder; and by evidence that now-retired Detective Louis Scarcella may have helped the DA’s office win convictions with hyped evidence.

Denying all wrongdoing, Hynes and Vecchione maintained a united, tough front. Now, though, transformed from roaring lions into quacking lame ducks, they are bequeathing a shambles to successor Kenneth Thompson.

Two veteran prosecutors were demoted and booted from a controversial case after, it is said, one nearly came to blows with Vecchione; a third assistant district attorney was fired after reportedly questioning whether the office was meeting its legal obligations in the Collins case, and a judge ordered Hynes’ office to turn over all documents related to the Scarcella allegations.

You almost need a scorecard to keep all of this straight.

The Scarcella investigation was triggered by the release from prison of David Ranta after serving 23 years on a murder conviction that hinged on Scarcella’s work. Hynes ordered an internal review of more than 40 Scarcella-related cases, but an assistant breezily told Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Desmond Green that the probe had “discovered no evidence that corroborates the allegations” against the detective. Properly, Green demanded to see the files himself.

Then, there is the tangled matter of Cantor Baruch Lebovits and Sam Kellner. First, Hynes’ office convicted Lebovits of sexual abuse with the help of Kellner, a whistle-blower against fellow members of Brooklyn’s Hasidic community. Then, Hynes’ office indicted Kellner on an extortion charge, leading to a reversal of Lebovits’ conviction. After Hynes moved to retry Lebovits — who has been supported by Hynes allies in the Hasidic community — a crucial tape recording went missing from the DA’s office. Friday, amid reports Hynes would offer the cantor a plea bargain for time already served, Thompson sent a hand-delivered letter asking the outgoing DA for “no procedural steps [to] be taken . . . until I take office.”

Last week, more than two years into Kellner’s case, veteran prosecutors Joseph Alexis and Nicholas Batsidis notified his counsel that they were dropping the case for lack of evidence, only to be demoted after a heated confrontation with Vecchione. The prosecutor who replaced them, John Holmes, then told a judge this week that he didn’t so much as know the status of the investigation and that the office was not prepared for trial.

This is a rudderless and sinking ship from which Vecchione has jumped into retirement while Hynes vacations in Bermuda, his career at a bitter end.