Earlier this month, Judge Emmet Sullivan took the bench in a hearing in the prosecution of Zhenli Ye Gon, a businessman at the center of an international drug trafficking conspiracy, and the judge put the government on notice.
If government prosecutors don't abide by their obligations to turn over favorable information to Ye Gon’s defense lawyers, the judge said at the hearing June 2 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, “the sanctions will be severe,” according to a transcript released Monday.
“I don’t want to spend a lot of time on Brady because if no one knew about Brady before [the ex-Sen. Ted] Stevens [case], everyone does now, and I’ve crafted a standing order I’m going to issue,” Sullivan said at the hearing. “Everyone’s fairly aware of everyone’s—of the government’s Brady obligations and that’s just not an issue that’s open for debate."
Last week, Justice Department prosecutors moved to dismiss the conspiracy charge against Ye Gon, citing “evidentiary concerns” and the importance of prosecuting the case in Mexico. Authorities in Mexico, according to Justice filings, consider the Ye Gon case one of high public interest. Prosecutors moved to dismiss the case without prejudice. A hearing is scheduled for this afternoon in Sullivan’s court.
Following the government’s motion, Sullivan ordered all the lawyers into court for an emergency status conference. The judge lashed the prosecution team and questioned the motive for the sudden twist in the case. Ye Gon has been jailed since his arrest in the summer of 2007.
Mexican authorities have for some time sought Ye Gon’s return to Mexico for prosecution there on charges that include organized crime and drug manufacturing, the judge noted in court. Sullivan grilled prosecutors about why the “evidentiary concerns” were not passed along to Ye Gon’s lawyers sooner.
Lawyers for Ye Gon, including Manuel Retureta and A. Eduardo Balarezo, said in a filing (.pdf) Monday evening that the conspiracy charge should be dismissed with prejudice because the government knew about “evidentiary concerns”—the fact a key witness recanted—for more than a year before the information was disclosed to the defense.
“The fact that the government knew that a witness recanted months ago and didn’t disclose that information to the defense is, indeed, sanctionable in itself,” Sullivan said in court June 2.
At the hearing, Justice Department trial attorney Paul Laymon noted how “things have a habit of turning quickly” in the Ye Gon case.
Laymon noted that the government hit “stumbling blocks” trying to arrange depositions in China. The Chinese government sought to impose certain restrictions on the depositions, Laymon said. Ultimately, the government abandoned the depos.
“Is this case due for a change real quickly?” Sullivan asked at the June 2 hearing. Indeed, it was.
Paul O’Brien, chief of the Justice Department’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, made an official appearance in the Ye Gon case this week. O’Brien was among the prosecutors tapped to replace the trial prosecution team in the Ted Stevens case after allegations of prosecution misconduct surfaced.