In May 2012, U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty (Southern District of New York) sentenced Ross Mandell to 12 years in federal prison. Mandell was convicted on fraud charges after a 3-week trial. A jury found that Mandell’s firm, Sky Capital, defrauded investors, most of them from the UK, out of millions of dollars. He would enter prison in September 2014 after exhausting appeals in the 2nd Circuit and a rejection from the Supreme Court. He is currently in a Federal Prison Camp in Miami with a release date of November 29, 2023.
Mandell filed a lawsuit in October 2018 in the Southern District of Florida against the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) claiming that they were withholding information that he believes would overturn his conviction. Mandell’s suit relates to the failure of these government organizations to produce records related to several Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Government prosecutors are fighting hard to keep Mandell from looking through these previously unpublished records … which begs the question, WHY?
Mandell asked the government (FBI, SEC and DOJ) for files related to Steven Altman, an attorney who worked at Sky Capital. Altman was never indicted but had a close relationship with Mandell’s initial defense attorney, Jeffrey Hoffman. Mandell has claimed that Hoffman aided Altman in sealing a deal of immunity by cutting a secret deal with prosecutors. Mandell went as far as filing a 2255 against Hoffman stating that his defense was inadequate. Mandell lost that motion but that not has deterred him from looking at a way out of prison and a search for the truth.
If Altman were a government witness, then somebody must have spoken to him during the investigation. For over three years, Mandell has been requesting information from the FBI and US Attorney’s Office on any notes they have from any meeting held with Altman. Mandell claims that he has information that there are multiple files on Altman that have not been turned over as a result of his FOIA request.
This latest lawsuit was a result of guidance from an investigator at the Disciplinary Committee of the New York State BAR who was also looking into Mandell’s claims. The New York State BAR has since cleared Hoffman.
Mandell is represented by Mark G. Astor, a government transparency and media lawyer who has represented journalists and others get court records, quash subpoenas for sources, defend against defamation claims, and fight unconstitutional gag orders. If Hoffman accompanied Altman to meetings with the government, as Mandell claims will be revealed, then we have a case where one lawyer is representing two people in the same criminal case … not only unethical, but illegal.
Mandell filed this motion in the Southern District of Florida, which is where he is currently in prison. A hearing was held before Judge Alicia M. Otazo-Reyes on November 21. The ultimate decision will be made by U.S. District Court Judge Darrin P. Gayles.
Mandell’s other attorney, Matthew Topic, an expert on government transparency, argued, “there is no dispute that Altman was Plaintiff’s attorney, but nonetheless the Government intended to use Altman as a trial witness against Plaintiff. This raises important questions about the extent to which the DOJ respects the attorney/client relationship in pursuit of a prosecution which outweighs any privacy interest …. But here the substantive issue is how do they handle a situation where one of the witnesses, or potential witnesses, or just one of the actors is a lawyer for the person who is the Defendant? That is why it becomes a substantive law enforcement policy matter and not just sort of an abstract single case.”
The government should give up the information on Altman. Mandell went all the way through trial to prove his innocence. If there was a side deal made, and I’m assuming that there was not, what is there to hide? The government’s argument is that Altman has a right to privacy … to which Topic replies, “Even if there was a privacy interest, it must outweigh the public interest in disclosure. Here, the extent to which prosecutors attempt or succeed in using criminal defendants’ prior attorneys to further a prosecution represents important public policy questions about respect for the attorney-client relationship and how the DOJ carries out substantive law enforcement policy. That is exactly the kind of public interest that’s well recognized in FOIA case law.”
The decision to release the information on Altman could lead to Mandell being released … or not. However, disclosure of the information might just be in everyone’s best interest.
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