Wrath of vengeance (cont.)
Giving up his clients
Defense attorney Ronald Minkin did join his clients in crime.
For two decades, the San Francisco attorney counseled drug-smuggling clients, including operators of the largest marijuana smuggling operation in that region.
Eventually, he did more helping them launder drug money and assisting them in bringing freighter loads of marijuana into the country.
When federal agents caught up with him in 1990, he cut a deal with prosecutors: He would deliver his clients in exchange for his freedom.
Minkin not only allowed the feds to wire his office but wore electronic surveillance equipment himself as he met with various clients to discuss legal work, violating the most important tenet of bar association ethical standards the confidentiality of the lawyer-client relationship.
Then federal prosecutors went one step farther. They began steering defendants or potential defendants to Minkin and recorded their conversations, too.
Eventually, all of Minkins cohorts were arrested, and he prepared to testify against them.
Defense lawyers argued that all evidence should be suppressed because of Minkins violation of the attorney-client privilege, and the misconduct by prosecutors in steering new clients his way, then taping them.
In 1993, a federal judge decided that simply suppressing evidence in the matter was insufficient. He dismissed all the charges against defendants that Minkin had helped snare.
Minkin quit practicing law and could not be found for comment.
A blood feud
When Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony White brought charges against Ciro Mancuso in 1990, it was hailed as one of the largest drug conspiracy cases ever brought in Reno, Nev.
The indictment alleged that Mancuso used a multi-state cocaine- and marijuana-smuggling operation to buy ranches, mountaintop retreats, beach-front estates and anything else he might want.
White, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was acclaimed once again as a hero for taking down Mancuso, who was known not only as a drug smuggler, but for the cagey ways he had avoided arrest and prison time for nearly two decades.
Mancuso would come close to succeeding again. He had information that might tempt prosecutors to cut him a break.
Mancuso could lay out the intricate smuggling network he used to bring drugs from the far reaches of South America into this country via Mexico. He knew the names and the roles of dozens of insiders in the operation, many of them bigtime and longtime smugglers.
But providing such information involved risks. Snitching against these people could get Mancuso killed. Instead, he laid out a deal implicating his lawyer, which involved far fewer risks. White bit on the proposal.
Patrick Hallinan was a prominent defense lawyer and an accomplished archeologist from San Francisco. His father was considered to be one of the finest lawyers to emerge from the city. His brother was head of the citys law department.
Mancuso was one of the wealthiest of Hallinans longtime clients.
Hallinan filed a flood of paperwork after Mancusos indictment, citing what he considered to be illegal and unethical actions by White. The animus between the two lawyers grew, and Hallinan had soon forced a deal in which Mancuso would be granted leniency for informing on others.
Then Hallinan became the unlikely target after Mancuso re-negotiated his deal to include, he has said in court papers, a probationary sentence. He would walk free instead of doing the 10 years hed been promised earlier.
Within months, Hallinan, and 11 Mancuso confederates, were indicted for drug smuggling, money laundering and racketeering. All of Mancusos colleagues ranked below him in his drug ring hierarchy.
White and other prosecutors in Reno had a history of trying to get high-powered lawyers disqualified from criminal drug prosecutions. But this was the first time a criminal defense lawyer had become the subject of an investigation because a client had turned on him.
In letters, the Post-Gazette sent specific questions about the Mancuso case to the U.S. Attorney in Las Vegas and to Justice Department officials but got no response.
"My perspective is that, when you lie down with dogs, you get fleas," John Keker of San Francisco, who was Hallinans lawyer, said in an interview. "In Reno, that prosecutor had been running so wild for so long that they just lost all track of whats important and what the truth was.
"It was like the inquisition. It didnt matter what youd done. You could be the devil, but if you confessed in this case, youd get the sweetest deal. And if you could give them someone like Patrick Hallinan, you could walk."
From the start, Hallinan and his lawyers accused Mancuso of lying to weasel out of his prison time. And as Hallinan and Keker quickly found out, White had just begun.
Less than a month before the trial, White moved to oust Keker from the case because he had once represented Mancusos wife in a minor criminal matter.
"Anybody who would try to disqualify me at this late date is a chicken who is afraid to try a case against me," Keker told the local media.
Keker responded in court with a scathing petition to dismiss the Hallinan indictment because it was filled with misconduct by the prosecutors.
As motion after motion was filed showing the weaknesses of the governments case, federal prosecutors tried another tack against Hallinan.
In June 1994, federal agents raided his San Francisco home, hoping to find evidence that Hallinan had smuggled Peruvian artifacts and was illegally trafficking in ancient art.
Hallinan had been an art collector since his undergraduate days at the University of California at Berkeley, when he studied for an archaeology degree.
No charges were ever filed against Hallinan based on the search warrant. He still has not recovered hundreds of documents and valuable pieces of art taken during the raid.
And in early 1996, Hallinan was acquitted when he faced Mancuso in court. His lawyers were able to prove that the government had coached Mancusos testimony and that he was lying about Hallinans direct knowledge of his drug activities and money laundering.
Mancuso was sentenced to a 10-year prison term.
In November 1996, Mancusos lawyers filed an appeal of the sentence, contending that White had promised him "little or no jail time" for testifying against his lawyer. Mancusos attorneys said the government breached its plea agreement with Mancuso.
A 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel disagreed with Mancusos lawyers. He is now serving his sentence at the federal penitentiary in Yankton, S.D.