The federal prosecutors involved in a high profile foreign bribery case want to restrict what defense lawyers can tell jurors at the upcoming trial that is scheduled to start Thursday.
The prosecution this week urged Judge Richard Leon of Washington federal district court to bar the defense attorneys from bringing up allegations of government misconduct, an issue that’s been raised time and again in the litigation.
Matthew Solomon, an assistant U.S. attorney, and Laura Perkins of the Justice Department’s Fraud Section said in court papers (PDF) filed Monday that Leon has already rejected defense motions to dismiss that were based on allegations investigators overstepped their authority. (Leon on May 6 denied several defense motions.)
Prosecutors said claims of government misconduct, stemming from a sting operation in which 22 people were charged in a conspiracy to bribe the defense minister of Gabon, are matters for Leon, not the jury, to handle. The government said the undercover sting that formed the basis of the prosecution was “appropriate and proper.” Several defendants have pleaded guilty, and the government said it expects to call at least two of the co-defendants at the upcoming trial.
“Because the propriety of law enforcement methods presents solely a legal question for the Court’s consideration, arguments that invite the jury to nullify based on the government’s manner of conducting the investigation have no place at a trial on the merits,” prosecutors said in court papers.
Specifically, prosecutors urged Leon to block the defense lawyers from arguing, among other things, that it was improper for the Justice Department to allow the government’s main informant to maintain U.S. licenses to earn a living while working as cooperator.
Prosecutors also said the defense should be banned from saying that it was improper for the government to use the official seal of Gabon during the sting. Gabon and its officials were not a part of the investigation.
One issue prosecutors said they expect to come up at trial is whether the government tried to stifle communication between a lawyer and one of the men, Saul Mishkin, who was charged in the conspiracy. Prosecutors said they want Leon to bar the defense attorneys from arguing the government falsely led the defendants from believing the proposed $15 million deal with Gabon was legal.
Leon is expected later this afternoon to meet with the defense lawyers for a pretrial conference.