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Win at all costs
Written by Bill Moushey Part 9 of 10

Wrath of vengeance (cont.)

A government target

The indictment shocked South Florida’s legal community.

Federal prosecutors had won indictments against Miami criminal lawyer Frank Quintero, a leader in the local law community. Quintero had become so involved in the businesses of his cocaine cartel clients, the indictment charged, that he finally became one of them.

He was accused of buying a boat that was used to haul cocaine from Colombia to South Florida. In addition to one count of conspiracy to import cocaine, Quintero also faced one count of conspiring to distribute cocaine and eight counts of laundering drug money.

The government contended its witnesses would place Quintero in the middle of various drug deals involving his clients.

But Quintero maintained the only evidence against him had been bought by prosecutors through promises of leniency and payments to drug smugglers he’d helped defend.

His first trial ended with acquittals on most of the charges in August 1996. The jury deadlocked on four other drug and money laundering charges. Last February, the government began its efforts to try him again, but Quintero’s attorneys have fought the effort in court.

They contend the government’s actions have been so laced with misconduct that their client could never receive a fair trial and have asked a judge to dismiss all charges.

Quintero’s lawyers, Robert C. Josefsberg and C. Richard Strafer, argued that after the case began to disintegrate, the federal government began breaking the rules in their efforts to convict him.

One of these incidents was documented earlier in this series. Federal agents asked marina owner Peter Roca if Quintero owned any boats linked to drug smugglers or had arranged the lease payments on them. Roca said no.

Under discovery rules, prosecutors should have made that statement known to Quintero, but didn’t.

As the second trial approached, Quintero’s lawyers learned of Roca’s statement and listed him as a witness, to reveal the government’s tactics. But just a few days before Roca was scheduled to testify, federal agents obtained a search warrant for Roca’s business. They had the warrant sealed so no one could determine what they were trying to find.

Agents seized his business records and created such an uproar that Roca’s landlord evicted him, effectively shutting down his business and eventually forcing him into bankruptcy. Roca was never charged with a crime.

In a motion to dismiss the charges against Quintero, attorneys cited several other incidents of misconduct.

The key prosecution witness against Quintero at his first trial was Alex Sanz, an imprisoned drug smuggler who said Quintero had been involved in money laundering. In exchange for testifying, federal prosecutors promised Sanz he would be released from prison.

Prosecutors insisted in pre-trial motions that it had carefully documented that Sanz’s testimony had been truthful as it fought an attempt by Quintero’s lawyers to put on a witness — an attorney Sanz had once hired — who would challenge Sanz’s statements.

"The government ... would rather still believe the accusations of a convicted drug trafficker, Alex Sanz, who is ‘cooperating’ only in order to buy his own freedom, over the testimony of an officer of the Court, Vincent Flynn, who has no axe to grind whatsoever in this case," Quintero’s attorneys wrote.

Quintero’s attorneys also pointed out that the government’s own documents showed Sanz had lied.

"Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Pelletier’s own files [that were turned over to defense attorneys in a case not involving Quintero] showed that Sanz was lying," Quintero’s argument stated.

Quintero’s attorneys also noted that a Dade County sheriff’s deputy who had testified against Quintero made four false statements in his first trial. One lie concerned a message slip the deputy found in Quintero’s office — a message that purportedly proved Quintero knew the real name of a drug fugitive he had associated with.

The government would learn that the message, in fact, was from someone else — yet hid that fact from the jury. Only as the second trial approached did prosecutors finally concede that fact, Quintero’s lawyers said.

Quintero also noted that prosecutors had intentionally mingled certain documents submitted as evidence to make it appear that Quintero had numerous contacts with the drug fugitive.

"The deplorable sleight-of-hand tactics employed by the government should not be condoned,’ " Josefsberg, said. "The government sought to fool the jury into buying into its theory of the case by manipulating exhibit numbers, all the while affording itself plausible deniability."

Finally, Quintero’s lawyers said, the government’s intimidation of Quintero’s wife, who is also a lawyer, during a grand jury probe was unconscionable.

"The government, knowing Mr. Quintero’s marriage was on the rocks, sought to prod her into making accusations against Mr. Quintero by referring openly about his (alleged) affairs with ‘other women,’ and his (allegedly) excessive gambling," the lawyers argued. "When she proved more feisty than anticipated and complained in front of the grand jury about the prosecutors’ conduct, they lectured her and announced that, ‘in a grand jury proceeding, a defendant has no rights.’

"This glimpse into the prosecutors’ grand jury tactics is relevant, not because, standing alone, it would require the dismissal of the indictment, but rather because it reveals the beginning of a pattern of conduct which permeates this entire prosecution.

"At trial, the government put on false testimony and it continues to defend its witnesses, despite irrefutable evidence — including a tape recording — of the falsity of that testimony. Conversely, those who stand up for Mr. Quintero are humiliated (Mrs. Quintero) or subject to retaliatory searches and accused of perjury (Peter Roca). The same prosecutors, who apparently believe their targets have ‘no rights’ in grand jury proceedings, have, by their conduct, evinced the belief that defendants have no rights in trials either."

Prosecutors have consistently denied wrongdoing, saying there were legitimate reasons to search Roca’s marina, that Sanz did not perjure himself on the witness stand and that the government did not abuse anyone before the grand jury.

"These nefarious allegations are symptomatic of an attempt to tilt the adversarial tables from a trial of the defendant’s culpability for the crimes charged to a trial of the government," wrote Pelletier.

There has been no decision on Quintero’s motion to have the charges dismissed.

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