Journalism in the Public Interest

Polarizing Brooklyn Prosecutor Retires Amid Scrutiny

Top Brooklyn prosecutor Michael Vecchione is retiring his post after a career spanning more than two decades.  He leaves a troubling legacy, including allegations that he convicted an innocent man of murder in a case that could cost New York City millions.

Top Brooklyn prosecutor Michael Vecchione is retiring his post after a career spanning more than two decades. He leaves a troubling legacy, including allegations that he convicted an innocent man of murder in a case that could cost New York City millions. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, Pool)

For more than 20 years, Michael Vecchione served as one of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes’ top lieutenants, taking on some of the office’s most controversial cases. Earlier this week, he filed his retirement papers, bringing his career as a prosecutor to a close.

His departure comes on the heels of two resounding electoral defeats for Hynes, both by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Thompson. Hynes lost in the Democratic primary in September and again in the general election earlier this month, when he ran as a Republican. Hynes is scheduled to cede the office to Thompson on December 31.

For much of Hynes’ tenure, Vecchione was by his side, running the most powerful divisions of the office, first as chief of homicide in 1992 and later taking over the rackets division in 2001.

Vecchione often prosecuted the office’s most high-profile cases. He earned a reputation as an effective trial attorney, but was sometimes criticized by judges, defense lawyers and former colleagues as being willing to bend ethics rules to win convictions. He’s leaving the office before Thompson can follow through on a pledge to fire him come January.

Earlier this year, ProPublica chronicled Vecchione’s career, finding that he was at the center of some of the office’s most embarrassing scandals. In 2007, Vecchione tried to bring a murder conspiracy case against a former FBI agent, but it imploded when the court learned that a star witness had given inconsistent accounts of the murder accusations. In 2003, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office agreed to release a man it believed responsible for multiple murders after it came to light that Vecchione withheld evidence in the man’s original trial. Last year, a member of Vecchione’s sex trafficking unit resigned following accusations that she withheld a victim’s recantation in a rape case.

But he’s perhaps best-known for his involvement in the wrongful conviction of Jabbar Collins, a Brooklyn man who served 16 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Collins is now suing the city for $150 million, accusing Vecchione of coercing witnesses, withholding evidence and suborning perjury at his trial in 1995.

In 2010, Federal Judge Dora Irizarry issued a withering rebuke of Vecchione’s conduct in the case, saying it was “beyond disappointing” in a decision to toss Collins’ conviction.

“It is really sad that the D.A.’s office persists in standing firm and saying they did nothing wrong here,” Irizarry said.

In June, Vecchione was forced to give sworn testimony about his conduct in the case. He offered little in the way of explanation; instead, he answered questions with some version of “I don’t recall” 324 times. The second part of his deposition is tentatively scheduled for January.

In the face of all this criticism, Hynes has consistently defended Vecchione, calling him a “very principled” lawyer at a press conference following Irizarry’s opinion.

Hynes also allowed Vecchione to represent the office as a key character in the CBS reality show “Brooklyn DA,” which aired earlier this year.

Neither Vecchione nor the Brooklyn DA’s office immediately responded to calls for comment. If they do, we’ll update this story.

The scandal behind the dropping of charges against DeVecchio is quite the opposite of what the article’s author stated. The FBI supervisor was NOT innocent, and the witness was truthful. Also, another key witness, Gregory Scarpa, Jr., was prevented from testifying, thereby protecting key Department of Justice personnel.

See the book, Crimes of the FBI-DOJ, Mafia, and al Qaeda, and also The full impact of the related scandals are being covered up by every check and balance, with the most explosive scandal and catastrophic consequences kept from the people.

Mitchell Jon MacKay

Nov. 15, 2013, 10:11 p.m.

The consistency with which these allegations against prosecutors and District Attorneys recurs tells us that the system itself promulgates and perpetuates these travesties.  With several prosecutions logged recently against formerly immune lawbreakers this inbred trend is being challenged although not thoroughly enough to dissuade future misconduct.  The system invites corruption, therefore the system needs to be restructured if any positive remedy be launched.  Why this corruption?  It is mental disorder of the instrumental parties due to lack of discernment of hiring and electing the proper people to police and determine justice.  Naturally the very opposite of justice is often the result.  This system of justice is highly unjust and has been for many decades if not centuries.  All who examine this system eruditely come to this conclusion.  Those who ignore choose ignorance.  Those who perpetuate it are psychopathic.  This is what the system has wrought.

It should be no surprise to all but the braindead that the pattern of abuse, prosecutorial and otherwise, continues because it can.  IF it comes to the Courts attention that attorneys / witnesses /evidence are not straight up and forthcoming - often nothing is done.  Same goes for judges.  They are almost always attorneys and as such they have made their careers in an atmosphere and understanding that basically says “I got your back if you have mine”.  So they “overlook” certain things as insurance that allegations against themselves don’t stick either.  Sort of like get out of jail free cards - or get out of what could be hot water.

Judges are no better.  We like to think of Judges like king Soloman but we are way off base there for darn sure.  i have witnessed first hand how allowances are made if you are a member of “the club”.

I’ve seldom if ever had the feeling that i stand out above the crowd in anything.  However it occurs to me that I may be ahead of the game as to the sanctity of our courts and the law.  Too many people fail to realize THEY TOO could be on the wrong side of the bars, not because they did anything wrong, but because they made a convenient scapegoat or because (SCARY) someone wanted you out of the way.  To summarize I am well aware that crappy stuff happens in our courts.  They aren’t what we see on TV unless its a show about corruption.  Few of the parties involved are as interested in making sure justice prevails as they are in GETTING AHEAD/POWER/AUTHORITY/PRESTIGE

Hm.  A job where you’re assessed based almost entirely on conviction rates and has little to no oversight sees people who are willing to convict innocent people.  Weird, right?

I mean, of course Vecchione deserves part of the blame, but maybe we should look at reforming the system rather than assuming he’s the only bad seed.  What would it take for the justice system to seek justice instead of merely convictions?

In theories put forward in the comments, the system itself is questioned.  Since the system’s primary and essential element is people, the nature of the individual psyche of the individual must be considered. One implicit assumption put forward is that the problem is sick or abnormal people being in charge. I suggest that it is better to assume that so widespread a problem has to do with the nature of so-called normality.

One can assume that by nature we consist of complexes, several of them. Our ego is merely one of them. By nature it is rather skewed, one-sided, or off-center no matter how well-intentioned. Our other complexes are more or less autonomous, and range from being supportively complementary to being in outright opposition. The true center of our psyche is where all our complexes, conscious (the ego) and unconscious, have interplay and potential for integration and progress. This is our genuinely spiritual center.

The only hope for progressive change is awareness of this fundamental structural nature of the psyche. Only this awareness can produce the necessary self-doubt to hold our ego in check and prevent the psychic inflation that corrupts good intentions into bad deeds. Those unaware of the situation are captured by distortions of perception and judgment. In power positions they are at least initially immune from having to face the darker aspects of themselves.

This appears to me to be the best scientific way of looking at the system. The evidence is there, in each of us. It is like watching ancient Greek tragedy to observe the ignorant vulnerability that perpetuates itself everywhere.

“Polarizing” is the perfect first word for the title of the article. Those in power align with similar attitudes in the hierarchical power structure and the general population. But there is always an opposing attitude and a counter-alignment when we are one-sided.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Out of Order

Out of Order: When Prosecutors Cross the Line

New York City prosecutors who abuse their authority almost never see their careers damaged.

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