Federal prosecutors and investigators received a severe scolding in court this week from one of the judges overseeing a $25 million fraud case against a Broward County family of fortune tellers.
"I'm disappointed by the shameful conduct of the government here," the usually mild-mannered U.S. Magistrate Judge James Hopkins said during a hearing on defense allegations in federal court in West Palm Beach on Wednesday. "There's much about the government's conduct in this case that's very troubling."
Among the problems identified by the judge were grand jury testimony that included "ethnic stereotypes" about Gypsies or the Roma allegations an investigator had a financial relationship with alleged victim and best-selling romance novelist Jude Deveraux; that agents and a prosecutor helped Deveraux in a court case about money she owed her ex-husband; and that some "victims" were included in the indictment without agents ever contacting them to confirm any crime occurred.
The judge also called some of the investigative team's actions "deficient" and said they raised "the specter of misconduct."
Defense lawyers asked the judge to dismiss charges against Rose Marks and eight family members alleging the behavior was sufficiently egregious.
The judge said he felt the alleged misconduct did not rise to the level required by law to dismiss the charges against the family before their April 1 trial. Four family members have pleaded guilty but may withdraw those pleas if the case is dismissed for governmental misconduct.
Hopkins said the defense can raise the issue at trial and ask U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra, the trial judge, to toss out the case before it goes to a jury. Hopkins will make his formal recommendations soon, but the defense is expected to ask Marra, who has the final say, to reconsider.
Hopkins became aggravated Wednesday when he said the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida was not "'fessing up to significant errors."
Meantime, last night was the big federal bar event at the Hyatt. It was a success as usual with a large turnout. Most of the federal judges were there and the lines at the bar weren't too long. So good times for all!
Have a nice weekend.