A federal judge in Washington today questioned why Justice Department prosecutors failed to turn over favorable information to defense lawyers in a high-profile international drug trafficking conspiracy case.
This morning Justice Department prosecutors moved to dismiss without prejudice conspiracy charges against Zhenli Ye Gon, citing “evidentiary concerns” and insisting that prosecution was better suited to unfold in Mexico. Ye Gon faces charges in Mexico that include organized crime and importation of psychotropic chemicals. The prosecution also moved to dismiss an accompanying criminal forfeiture allegation.
“I’m not pleased at all with anything I’ve heard from the United States government,” Judge Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said today in a status hearing in the government’s case against Zhenli Ye Gon. Sullivan’s remarks today mirror the criticism he lodged against Justice Department Public Integrity Section prosecutors in the Ted Stevens case.
In the Ye Gon case, Sullivan today called the government’s motion “very serious,” and said there are issues before the court that go beyond the Justice Department’s request to dismiss the case without prejudice. In a related hearing involving a codefendant, he said prosecutors who fail to abide by obligations to turn over favorable material to defense lawyers should resign from public service.
Sullivan had made similar criticisms in the Ted Stevens case. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. moved to dismiss all charges against Stevens in April, saying that prosecutors failed in their obligation to turn over favorable information to the defense lawyers in that case. The judge launched a criminal contempt investigation into the prosecution failure to follow court orders.
In the Ye Gon case, Sullivan today ordered prosecutors to submit a declaration from the Justice Department that details, among other things, when the government learned that a critical witness had recanted and that another witness was unwilling to testify.
The favorable information, the judge said today, has been known by the government for “months” and yet was only recently disclosed to the lawyers representing Ye Gon. The defendant, who was not in court this afternoon, remains in custody in Virginia. He has been held in custody since his arrest in 2007 in Maryland.
Criminal Division trial attorney Paul Laymon, who drafted the motion to dismiss, said in court that the department will address the judge’s concerns in writing.
In court, Laymon said the “overwhelming” reason behind the government’s wish to dismiss charges is to allow prosecution to take place in Mexico. He wrote in the motion that the Ye Gon case has significant public interest in Mexico. Responding to the latter thought, the judge said, “This is nothing new.”
Ye Gon’s lawyers, including Manuel Retureta and A. Eduardo Balarezo, say they will fight extradition. After the hearing, Balarezo said he was pleased with the Justice Department’s request to dismiss charges.
Sullivan has set a follow-up status conference for June 30. The judge did not identify in court which Justice attorneys must sign the declaration. In the Stevens case, Sullivan ordered—and then backed off—requiring a declaration from then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey.