The top attorney in Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel’s office was reported to the Department of Justice’s Inspector General by a lawyer representing whistleblowers for alleged “corrupt legal practices” more than a year before the 2016 presidential election and a decade before to the Senate Judiciary Committee, this reporter has learned.
Described by the New York Times as Mueller’s ‘pitbull,’ Andrew Weissmann, a former Eastern District of New York Assistant U.S. Attorney, rose through the ranks to eventually become Mueller’s general counsel at the F.B.I.
In 2015 Weissmann was selected to run the Department of Justice’s criminal fraud section and was later handpicked by Mueller to join the ongoing Special Counsel’s Office investigation into the alleged obstruction and alleged collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia.
But Weissmann’s rise to the top was rocky from the start. Although he’s been described as a tough prosecutor by some, his involvement in a case targeting the Colombo crime family in a New York Eastern District Court was the first of many that would draw criticism from his peers, as well as judges.
Civil rights and criminal defense attorney David Schoen, was the lawyer who reported Weissmann. Schoen met with Inspector General Michael Horowitz and several FBI officials to discuss Weismann in 2015. Schoen, who says he has never been a member of a political party, told this reporter his concerns about Weissmann do not stem from politics but from Weissmann’s ‘egregious’ actions in previous cases. He became involved in Colombo crime cases more than 20 years ago after evidence revealed that the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence in the case.
Schoen said he decided to revisit the case based on new witness information and “recent evidence that has come to light in the last several months.”
“The issue with Weissmann both pre-dates and transcends any of these current political issues,” said Schoen, who also used to represent the ACLU in Alabama. “I have met with Senator (Charles) Grassley’s staff and the DOJ IG about these issues and that was well before all of this…I care about these issues as a person who chose this profession and am otherwise very proud to be able to practice law, as the proud son of an FBI agent, and as a civil rights attorney dedicated to doing my part in trying to improve public institutions.”
John Lavinsky, a spokesman for the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General, declined to comment on Schoen’s meeting with Horowitz.
Weissmann also declined to comment for this story.
The FBI and The “Grim Reaper”
The case against the Colombo crime family in the late 1990s involved Theodore Persico, who was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, loan sharking, racketeering and firearms charges. Persico was the brother of Colombo boss Carmine Persico, Jr, and the network was one of five major Italian mafia organizations operating out of New York.
Weissmann, who was a young Assistant U.S. Attorney with the Eastern District of New York, was the lead attorney in the case against Persico and described by those who knew him as ambitious.
A court memorandum and order, which has never been made public before it was obtained by this reporter, reveals that Chief Judge Charles P. Sifton, who presided over the case, reprimanded Weissmann for failing to disclose that Gregory Scarpa, Sr., a witness on behalf of the prosecution, was also working for years as an FBI informant. Scarpa’s moniker in the mafia underworld was ‘grim reaper’ and ‘Hannibal.’ He was accused of being connected to more than 100 gruesome murders related to his work for the Persico faction of the Colombo mafia crime family, reports stated.
Sifton denied the defendants’ the extraordinary relief of dismissing the case, but he singled out Weissmann for withholding information. The judge described then AUSA Weissmann’s conduct as the “myopic withholding of information” and “reprehensible and subject, perhaps, to appropriate disciplinary measures,” according to the opinion obtained by this reporter.
Evidence suggested that Scarpa was involved in a personal relationship with his FBI handler, Lindley DeVecchio. DeVeccio, who was also a witness in a case connected to the Persico case.
Weissmann had DeVecchio testify against Michael Sessa, a captain in the Colombo family, despite knowing DeVecchio was under investigation by the FBI for his relationship with Scarpa. Weissmann and his team failed to disclose that to the courts and presented him as a solid witness in the case, according to Schoen and court documents.
There was also evidence that Scarpa received confidential information from DeVecchio that may have helped Scarpa “wage war” against another mafia faction, according to the 1998 appeal’s court documents. DeVecchio was eventually forced to retire from the FBI and was subsequently indicted for allegedly being involved in the four murders committed by Scarpa.
Those charges against DeVecchio were later dropped in 2007 due to lack of evidence, but the judge in DeVecchio’s case warned ‘the FBI was willing to make their own deal with the devil.” The judge was referring to the FBI’s use of Scarpa as an informant, according to reports. Scarpa was later convicted of the murders and died in a New York prison, as reported.
Persico and his co-defendants appealed their case in 1997, arguing that there was egregious Brady violations by Weissmann and the prosecution during their trial. “Brady” refers to the U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, in which the court held prosecutors are required to give the defendants evidence favorable to the defense.
Memorandum and Order Reversed
Sifton’s suggestion that Weissmann is brought before a disciplinary board never came to fruition.
Powerful allies came to his defense. In fact, then U.S. Attorney Eastern District of New York Zachary Carter fought to remove Weissmann’s name from the memorandum and order. Carter wrote a letter to Judge Sifton on Feb. 21, 1997, “to request that you amend your memorandum and order dated Feb.18, 1997 in the above-captioned case to delete the name of AUSA Andrew Weissmann from the sentence which it appears on page 46 of the opinion.”
Carter went on to say, “while the court has determined that the failure to make the disclosure was an error, the nondisclosure cannot fairly be characterized as the kind of egregious misconduct that warrants castigating an attorney by name in a published judicial opinion.”
In the end, Carter succeeded in getting Weissmann’s name removed from the memorandum and order, according to a second memorandum and order issued by Sifton’s obtained by this reporter.