Friday, April 29, 2005

Judge Throws Out Carpenters Racketeering Convictions

BY ANTHONY M. DESTEFANO
STAFF WRITER NY Newsday

In a strongly worded decision Friday, a Manhattan judge threw out the state bribery convictions of two union officials because of misconduct by jurors that included comments drawing parallels between the case and "The Sopranos" hit cable show.

Manhattan State Supreme Court Judge Jeffrey Atlas said he found numerous instances of jury misconduct that shifted the balance toward the prosecution in the case against union officials Michael Forde and Martin Devereaux.

"I am deeply troubled by the distinct likelihood that given the unauthorized pre-deliberation discussion of the evidence and the open expression of opinions about guilt and bias about unions, these jurors may well have failed to appreciate the delicacy and difficulty of their task and overlooked the standard of proof to which the prosecutor was held," Atlas said in his ruling that called for a new trial.

Atlas said that the case, which involved allegations of payoffs in 1998 by a firm doing renovation work at the Park Central Hotel, had only "marginally sufficient" evidence. But he noted that it was legally enough to go to the jury.

Prosecutors alleged that Forde, who in 1998 was head of Carpenters Union Local 608, and the local's business agent Deveareaux, took a payoff to allow the use of non-union work at the site. The company involved was identified by Atlas as S&S Contracting, a firm owned by Sean Richard, who had been married to the daughter of John Riggi, reputed head of the DeCavalcante crime family in New Jersey.

After Forde and Devereaux were convicted, an alternate juror came forward with allegations of misconduct in the jury room, and Atlas held a hearing at which all jurors testified.

Atlas said he was troubled by numerous episodes of misconduct in the jury room while the trial was under way, including instances of jurors voicing opinions about the credibility of witnesses and sarcastic comments about the defendants. He also was troubled by the presence in the jury room of a Village Voice article about the trial.

"We feel an injustice has been corrected," attorney Dino Lombardi said Friday about the ruling. Lombardi represented Forde at trial.

Lombardi said jurors, despite saying they could be fair, clearly had anti-union bias.

"You have these one-dimensional cartoonish impressions of trade union guys," Lombardi said of the juror bias.

Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney's office, said the office would appeal.

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