tale of the tape

Vance Prosecutor Accused of Hiding Tape Could Face Grilling Under Oath

Photo: Rose M. McDowell/Manhattan District Attorney’s Office

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A top deputy to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. may have to explain under oath her handling of evidence in several construction fraud cases at the heart of a prosecutorial misconduct probe.

Assistant DA Diana Florence resigned and was replaced as head of Vance’s Construction Fraud Task Force last month amid allegations she withheld evidence in a nine-defendant bribery takedown announced with much fanfare in spring 2018.

On Tuesday, an attorney for a convicted defendant demanded an evidentiary hearing on Florence’s handling of a 38-minute city Department of Investigation tape in which her sole cooperating witness swore under oath that he never took a bribe. That statement contradicted his courtroom testimony.

Tape Timeline Eyed

The tape was made in 2015, but wasn’t revealed publicly until last month, long after most of the defendants already had pleaded guilty or been convicted. DOI notes on the interview and a subsequent 2016 interview with the informant, Ifeanyi “Manny” Madu, also suddenly surfaced.

A key point of contention is Florence’s Jan. 24th court appearance, in which she told Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus she’d only “very recently” learned the informant tape’s existence.

But a few days after Florence made those statements in court, the DA’s Office filed a letter to Obus reporting the tape was downloaded to its computer system in 2017.

In the letter, Vance officials explained that they “did not realize until recently” that the tape and notes were in their computer files — and “inadvertently failed to turn” the materials over to the defendants.

Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Diana Florence walks out of a courtroom after a case she was prosecuting was dismissed, Jan. 5, 2020.
Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Diana Florence walks out of a courtroom after a case she was prosecuting was dismissed, Jan. 5, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Last week, Obus dismissed the case against one defendant, Kyriacos Pierides, calling the delays in sharing evidence “staggering.”

That was too late for several defendants who’d already pleaded out or been found guilty, including Henry Chlupsa, who in November was convicted of one bribery count in a non-jury trial before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Thomas Farber.

Chlupsa’s attorney, Nelson Boxer, asked Farber Tuesday to order an evidentiary hearing to determine when Florence learned of the informant tape. His request is part of a prior motion he made asking the judge to vacate the conviction.

The Manhattan DA’s office said they would only respond to Chlupsa’s motions in court.

Wider Implications Loom

Meanwhile, there are indications the misconduct allegations are having a broader effect.

The construction firm at the center of the bribery case, HAKS Engineering, had entered into a deferred prosecution’s agreement with Vance’s office and had agreed to pay $3 million in restitution.

That agreement was signed in May 2019, months before the allegations of misconduct. On Tuesday, the firm’s attorney, Michael Scotto, said after the allegations emerged, HAKS — now called Atane Consulting — began “a dialogue with the DA’s office and we’re waiting to receive more information from them.” He declined further comment.

Attorney Tom Curran, who has represented several clients investigated by Florence and her task force, said the internal review could spread beyond the HAKS cases.

“As the facts continue to emerge, people and companies that have dealt with the Task Force formerly headed by the resigned ADA are assessing seeking a review of all the Task Force’s cases — not just the HAKS cases,” Curran said.

THE CITY reported last week that two other defendants already serving time have been released without bail while they file appeals, and a third’s trial was postponed while the DA begins reviewing all the cases tied to the informant.

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