By MS | February 25, 2020
The United States has one of the best criminal justice systems in the world. As Americans, we have faith in our Constitutional protection that if we are accused of a crime, we will be presumed innocent until proven guilty and will have a fair trial with an unbiased jury of our peers. Yet, for men like Steven Crea, those given rights did not seem to apply because of preconceived notions about “organized crime” and the labels thrown about by federal prosecutors and the media. And that was just in the beginning, when the indictment was first brought against him in May 2017, before his trial even began.
It then became an almost impossible uphill battle for the defense because the tide had turned through constant media headlines filled with misinformation, and Steven’s presumption of innocence was thrown out the window. It just got worse once the trial started.
Steven’s son, Dominick was involved in the process every step of the way, providing professional litigation support through his firm to help in his father’s defense. What Dominick experienced during this process was eye-opening. From wrongly transcribed wiretaps to informants who didn’t even know his father being allowed to testify, it was a mind-boggling ordeal that made it seem like justice had taken a vacation.
After his father was convicted in November 2019, Dominick didn’t give up. He started a podcast in hopes of educating the general public on different facets of the trial process that should be given a closer look so that every defendant, regardless of whether a case is high-profile or not, can receive a fair and unbiased trial.
Dominick talked with us about his experiences both personally and professionally, and after hearing his story, it makes us wonder what exactly is happening with our justice system when an innocent man is allowed to be tried in the public eye and the tactics used by the prosecution would never have happened if Steven Crea’s name wasn’t Steven Crea.
Justice may exist for some, but there’s no such thing as justice for all, and there certainly wasn’t justice for Steven Crea.
Enjoy our interview.
Tell us a little bit about you. Who is Dominick Crea?
That’s a loaded question that depends on the context. To simplify, I am a devoted husband, loving father, loyal friend, and dedicated family man. As it relates to my professional career, I am a workaholic who makes certain any effort given to service my clients and grow my business is nothing less than 100%. I was always taught to work hard, have strong moral character, unquestionable integrity, and to treat others as you would want to be treated in life. Following those simple rules will guide you onto the right path.
What’s your prior professional background? You own a payroll service company that was listed in Inc. Magazine as one of fastest-growing companies for the past five years. That’s quite an accomplishment. Have you always been a businessman?
Thank you. I was fortunate and received various acknowledgments and awards throughout my career which was always quite humbling and extremely appreciated. To be recognized for one’s hard work by a group of peers or an organization is an experience that helps solidify you are on the right track. The best way to describe my professional background is I have always been an entrepreneur since I was 18.
The abridged version basically started with me as a salesman for a payroll service back in late 90s. After learning the operation, I felt it was something I could do and fill a gap I noticed was missing – true customer service. I made certain I would follow through on promises and clients would always feel as if they were the only client I had, regardless of how my company grew and expanded.
In 1999, I founded The PSP Group which operated nationwide and eventually obtained an international client base. Referrals were the main source of my growth as clients truly appreciated the one-on-one hands-on approach I would bring to the table.
In 2001, I founded PSP Insurance Brokerage, after training and obtaining my insurance product licenses. This also included a degree in Business of Insurance with Distinction from St. John’s University. This organization was spawned due to noticing many clients would come to me for payroll services. Yet, they were a startup with no insurance.
I thought to myself, “Let me create a one-stop shop for a business.” This way, if needed, my organization could fulfill any gaps they currently had. I was never a pushy salesman as that approach was always a turn off. My philosophy is simple: have a conversation, explain what you offer and how you operate. If people find value and want to use you great, if they don’t, onto the next.
As I grew operations, I continued to expand and educate myself including obtaining a certification in “Payroll Leadership” from the American Payroll Association. I am a firm believer in education and instill that into my children. You need to equip yourself with the proper tools that can support your ambition and drive.
Eventually in 2013, I connected with a much larger payroll operation, and we now co-service my accounts and my business continues to operate. After getting things set up with the new organization, my time freed up a bit as we now have a much larger workforce. Prior, I was handling all aspects of the service model hand-in-hand with my personnel. The increased staff has allowed me more time to focus on other projects
You also own Justice Technology Professionals (JTP) which is a litigation support firm. What is it and what kind of services do you provide?
With the increased time I had received on my hands and having many law firms as clients, JTP took shape. During our talks, they would all seem to have a similar problem. When they were assigned a case, they had great difficulty with the new manner in which discovery was produced. It was all given on hard drives and had to be extracted.
I have always had a strong background in computers and technology since from a young age I took an active interest and learned the ins and outs. I would handle the IT for my company when I began, and I taught myself, using many sources, about computers, technology, and software.
Again, I saw an opening for a business model that would both interest me and perform a needed service. JTP was formed and work began. I immediately focused on specific education in the “law “ arena and enrolled in Pace University to obtain my Certificate in Paralegal Studies. In addition, I received my COBOT expert designation in various related software packages to fine-tune the necessary expertise. I started small, handling all projects directly, extracting the discovery and assisting law firms. Again, through referrals based on my quality of work, fortunately, the company obtained additional clients and began to grow.
As of today, I continue to field projects and work with lawyers and firms in various aspects to support litigation. That is our focus – litigation support – everything, from Ediscovery, to research, to court runner support, to analysis, 3500 binders, trial binders, transcripts, expert analysis, audio/video enhancement, you name it. Basically, the model is extremely organic and continues to change based on the need.
For example, I had a lawyer who had no social media footprint. We helped him with that, getting him set up on all platforms to increase exposure and gain business. A first and only case such as that, but he asked and we delivered. We have helped firms in personal injury, civil cases, and criminal.
In short, I want our clients to know we are by their side. We will work with them on whatever is needed so they can focus on their case and obtain the best results possible by exhausting all efforts.
Do you focus on criminal or civil or do you work on both types of cases?
I have received assignments in both areas. However, lately, the main focus had been criminal. I also notice I excel in that area as I enjoy the “investigative” aspect of it, truly dissecting discovery, and looking for information to build a strong defense and support the assigned attorney.
How does your service help defendants?
We take an active role in extracting, analyzing, and researching the discovery as it compares to the allegations. As all are aware, when an indictment comes in, many allegations and accusations are made toward the defendant or defendants. The discovery holds the key to what is factual and what is not. Having a good handle on it and making certain nothing is missed is what shapes the strength of the defense. You are hit with thousands of files sometimes – audio files, video files, documents, pdfs, emails, etc. A monster data dump.
It is vital to go through it all properly and effectively as it could hold the key to exposing the falsities of the charges and allegations. Our firm does just that. We siphon through the material, expose inaccuracies, make certain claims made about audio recordings are accurate.
Far too many times, I have witnessed, first hand, the government’s claim they possess something during a pre-trial conference that is reflected in the discovery. However, once it is cross-referenced, the claims are not accurate. Without checking and truly understanding the material, you are pretty much flying blind.
I stress to all the defendants that I interact with, your case begins the second you are indicted. Don’t wait. I know some attorneys tend to procrastinate and “schedule” and are laid back. I am the complete opposite. I let the client know we are going to work 24/7 from the day that case is handed to our firm. We have lots of work to do, and we need all the preparation we can get.
Trials take a long time and many take that for granted. The bottom line is, so much needs to be done in the interim to be prepared and gauge exactly what you are up against and to build that defense. A defendant’s team needs to be firing on all cylinders because the bottom line is they are up against a very powerful opponent, with deep pockets, a huge staff, and endless resources. The only way to counteract that is to simply work at a capacity that is higher than most.
Tell me about the podcast. When did you start it and why?
Unfortunately, the last case I worked was for my father and we had a negative outcome. I was actually naively optimistic because I made the absurd assumption that the jury was focused and concentrating on the facts of the case and not being blinded by the “titles” being tossed around. I truly believed they would see the entire case had no evidence as it related to my father and he would be vindicated as the discovery and actual evidence supported his innocence. As I said, very naïve of me.
Unfortunately, the jury bought into the whole “HYPE” of the headlines and the concept of “if they have a label they are guilty.” The public forgets that when you serve on a jury, you need to weigh the facts of the case presented in front of you, not find someone guilty of a supposed “reputation”. It is not intended to work that way, but that is the reality of what takes place more often than not. This loss was a hard one to swallow, even though we are still in the fight as we have a strong appeal.
With that said, I was trying to think of a way to educate potential jurors and just enlighten the general public as a whole on different perspectives and text book law versus what plays out in a courtroom. Again, thanks to technology, an individual looking to share a message can do so via a podcast. I bought a mic, got some software, and began venting on my channel – trying to give insight as to how I view things and how the justice system is flawed, and how people are truly suffering due to the defects.
We live in America, and everyone, regardless of supposed “labels and titles” are entitled to a fair trial. You cannot convict someone based on an alleged position they supposedly have. Your duty as a juror is to go by the facts in front of you and the information you are being shown – not predetermined bias or prejudice one may hold.
If you don’t do that, and you convict based on the philosophy, “Well, they may not be guilty of this, but must be guilty of something since they are here in the first place,” you are crippling the justice system as we know it, and it is not worth the paper the Constitution is written on.
My podcast allows me to connect with the public on a personal level and explain the impact of a trial. It also allows a platform for me to help those who may be facing the justice system currently or in the future. I provide strategies and tactics that they can implement to hopefully ensure they are putting up the best defense possible.
My main goal is to open up the minds of those who may have them closed, to see things from another perspective and to understand the gravity of various situations. An educated, fair juror is the only way to counteract any potential corruption that may exist within the system. If a juror is truly fair, intelligent, and open minded, they can undo any limitations that may be set and make certain a defendant receives a fair trial despite what may be playing out in the courtroom.
What types of topics do you cover on the podcast?
Pretty much anything that relates to the justice system. However, the podcast is organic, and I have reviewed documentaries about cases, given insight on personal matters, and recently, we have had guests on. I had two episodes with guests in various fields of forensics. These episodes truly were eye-opening as it relates to how supposed “science” can be manipulated.
I try to pick topics that will help lawyers, defendants, families, friends – anyone who may relate to the subject matter. Whether the help is merely for knowledge, potential strategies, emotional relatability, whatever. If a listener takes something from the podcast that they find value in, I consider that a successful episode. As it continues to develop, I am sure I will expand my focus as this is uncharted territory for me, and I kind of play it out as I see fit.
Why is jury education so important?
It is extremely important. A prepared juror truly holds the power of justice in their hands. If they have strong character and solid fortitude, they won’t be influenced by any outside pressure to vote a certain way. If a defendant is not receiving a fair trial based on limitations from a judge, unfair tactics by prosecutors, or whatever it may be, the juror can undo all of that by rendering a verdict that is fair and just based on the actual case at hand.
What many jurors fail to understand and implement is the fact that the “burden of proof” is on the prosecution. Technically, a defendant does not even have to put on a case. The government or state has to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt to secure that conviction. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is such a high bar. Yet, too many jurors are not voting based on that Constitutional concept. They are switching the entire basis of the justice system and putting the burden on the defense to prove they are innocent.
I feel if a jury starts to fully understand the concept of “beyond a reasonable doubt”, analyzed the actual facts, weighs the case in front of them without any outside factors, and accepts the burden is on the government or state to prove guilt, the odds of an innocent man or woman being convicted will drop dramatically.
You need to be educated in all facets of life. So, how is it when a panel of 12 jurors are assembled, there is nothing to guarantee those 12 individuals understand their responsibility and comprehend what they have to do? They hold a life in their hands, and yet, you cannot be certain they have the tools, knowledge, or education to make that important decision properly.
It is disturbing when you truly think about it. I want to do my part to change that. Regardless of how small my part may be.
What are the top five things you’d like a potential juror to know before they sit on a trial?
1. The defendant in front of you is considered “innocent until proven guilty”, not the other way around. They are entitled to the benefit of that thought process. So, regardless of possible media attention, assumptions and labels, give that individual a clean slate as they sit before you and focus on the charges at hand.
2. The burden of proof is on the government. They have to prove to you, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is guilty. It is not a threshold of “you basically believe they are guilty”. No. You have to have no doubts at all. By the time the case is over, you need to feel that the person in front of you is 100% guilty, and the prosecution proved that fact beyond a reasonable doubt.
Remember, you can feel internally someone may be guilty. However, if you are a true juror fulfilling your obligation, if the prosecution did not prove it, you cannot convict. That is why you decide between guilty and not guilty, rather than guilty or innocent. You are not weighing innocence. You are deciding if the case was proven that the defendant is guilty.
3. Use common sense. Don’t fall for smoke and mirror tactics that often plague the case. Ask yourself internal questions. If something does not make sense, don’t give the benefit of the doubt. If it does not make sense, then there is a reason for that.
Use your common sense for all aspects of the case, especially for a witness. Be sure the witness is believable. Debate the questions: “Why are they suddenly a witness?” “What do they have to gain?” “How do they benefit from this.” Those are all questions to ponder.
Also factor in character. Many times, the prosecutor will try and convince you that character, habits, and moral compass have no impact on someone’s ability to tell the truth. I could not disagree more. All of those things make up why someone is believable and why they are not.
4. Don’t get bullied. If you are in that deliberation room and you are alone in your vote, you stand strong. Don’t simply sway and change because of the pressure of the others. You owe it to the justice system, to the concept of “fairness”, and to yourself to make sure you stand by your belief. If you feel strongly one way or another, then you vote that way, regardless of popularity.
5. Experts need to be vetted. Many times I see cases put on whereas the defense does not call an oppositional expert to challenge the prosecution’s expert. That is a mistake, as usually their input weighs heavily on a juror.
As a juror I want you to take a step back and if you only hear from an expert on the government’s side, please realize that is not gospel. There may be reasoning why the defense did not call their own expert to challenge. Sometimes a judge does not approve the defense expert, sometimes the defendant cannot afford one, sometimes if they are receiving a public defender, they will not get the funding for an expert to appear and testify with alternative facts and figures.
Think about these outside elements before giving too much credibility to one expert. Too many times I have witnessed an “expert” speak strongly on a topic only to find out later on, his personal opinion on the subject was just that – opinion. Not only did another side exist, but a side with facts to support the opinion. Remember, lying by omission is a thing. If someone intentionally leaves out relevant facts as it may relate to a science or finding, in essence, they are lying.
So, jurors need to understand all of these things when they hear from an expert.
There are 21 episodes up so far. Do you have a favorite you’d like to highlight?
That is hard as they are all unique. I would want lawyers, jurors, and defendants to listen to Epsiode 18 and Episode 19 as the expert information is eye-opening and very important to build a solid defense.
I would definitely want jurors to listen to “Reasonable Doubt” and the “Grand Jury” episodes. I don’t think people understand how easily someone can get indicted, and knowing that, would help the initial stigma that comes with sitting on the defense side of the table.
Personally, I am very pleased with my last episode, Episode 21. It was more personal to me, and I received great feedback that others have enjoyed it as well.
Is there such a thing as “innocent until proven guilty”?
In theory there is. However, that is just text book language to make it appear as though justice is fair. The truth is, from the second that indictment comes down, the defendant has to overcome the obstacle of people assuming they are guilty, especially in a high-profile case where the government blasts out press releases and the media pumps out story after story. How can one not be tainted by that? They are labeled and painted “guilty” from inception. The reality is a defendant is fighting to prove his or her innocence from the moment the cuffs are slapped on.
So, with the media already attaching stigmas or labels to a defendant before they even get to trial, how can a defendant overcome that type of prejudice before their trial begins?
The sad truth is there is no way to overcome that. The only shot we have as a society is that the public will see through it and make decisions based on evidence and fact, not preconceived notions. When a trial begins and the defendant walks in already labeled a supposed member of some organization, that damage cannot be undone.
One thing I find interesting that I don’t believe is stressed enough and glossed over is that it is not illegal to be a member of any secret society. So, let’s say the jury wants to believe the claims being made of membership, they should be reminded that even if you believe that, in and of itself is not a crime. The case still has to show an actual crime took place.
I believe jurors forget that fact and convict based on whether or not they believe someone is a member of an alleged secret society. That is a problem. They need to go by the facts of the case in front of them and nothing else. They should also be reminded time and again, you cannot convict someone for being a member of an organization if you believe they are.
Many people might not be aware that when an indictment is issued in a criminal case, it’s brought forth via a secret grand jury where only the prosecution presents their case. The defense is not involved in this process. Is this where the imbalance begins?
I did an entire episode on the grand jury and how the process is completely one sided. The defense has no say and most of the time the defendant is not even aware it is taking place. There is an old saying that always sticks in my head from Sol Wachtler, an ex- Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals who said you can “indict a ham sandwich.” That truly says it all.
Basically, if you are targeted and the powers to be want you, they will get that indictment. After all, think about it logically. The people sitting on the grand jury are only seeing one side of things. They are hearing from agents, prosecutors, informants, and witnesses who are all stating the information that they want to present to obtain the indictment.
What is most troubling is many times when the defense team sifts through the discovery, after the indictment has already happened, the evidence against the defendants does not support the claims made during the grand jury. What is most alarming is you are not entitled at the federal level to the minutes of the grand jury. How twisted is that? You are not allowed to see what was said during the grand jury to get you indicted. So, you can’t even line up whether the information was accurate and reflected on the discovery.
Yes, you can always make a motion to the judge to review the minutes, but ask any defense attorney how often that motion is granted on the federal level. I will be surprised if they don’t crack up right after you ask.
Regarding indictments and being given documents to prepare a defendant’s case. Can you explain the difficulties of going through those documents/audio recordings/etc.? When is a defendant first presented with this information?
It is not so much difficult as it is time-consuming and tedious. You have to know what you are doing. You get handed a hard drive, and you need to go through it, extract everything, sort it, organize it, convert it, and then begin the investigative aspect. Many times the discovery is buried in folders and the hard drives are filled with bloatware. Someone not familiar with that could waste a whole day looking at unrelated nonsense. You need to make sure you have capable help who are skilled.
Buried in that discovery lies the truth. So, you must find it. There could be a conversation, a video surveillance, a document, a wiretap, anything that can prove your innocence. Don’t let it slip due to skill set. Be sure you are equipped and have the people who can handle it.
I treat each case with the utmost importance. You have to critique all the information available and be sure to keep the lawyers in the loop each step of the way so they can guide and direct on strategies to build their defense. It is a team effort.
As far as when a defendant is first presented with the information, that is a problem in and of itself. They have this term called “rolling discovery” which basically means we will give it to you when we want to. Imagine that? Your life is on the line and you have to just sit and wait to see what evidence they have. Round after round they will give you a piece and it can last right up to before trial.
I will give you an example. For my father’s trial, we received the last round of discovery three weeks before trial, and the case went on for two-and-a-half years.
On top of preparing for trial based on what you had, you now have to factor in the new discovery as well and see if it can help. What happens if you have to investigate the information? Does that sound fair? Does that sound like equal justice on both sides? The government has been sitting on this stuff for months and years, yet they wait until three weeks before trial to turn it over. How can anyone look at that as a fair practice? Not to mention that right before trial, you get hit with the 3500 material, which is pretty much the notes from all the meetings that the informants had with the government. Obviously, that is extremely important, and you only have a couple weeks or a month to go through thousands of handwritten and typed notes to prepare for the witnesses.
If you ask me, that is an extremely one-sided practice in trial preparation. In my opinion, lots of tricks are used to put the defense at a disadvantage from day one. Therefore, you must try and do your best to stay ahead of the game, and the one way you can is to get a jump on that discovery.
What other specific areas are the scales out of balance?
Well, I can tell you this, where it relates to Italian Americans, the scales are way out of balance. If you are Italian, and you are labeled “organized crime”, the same rules that may apply to the average citizen, do not apply to you. This is not me just trying to create a false narrative. I will give you some fact-checking to support it. Look at some recent cases concerning compassionate releases. You change those defendants’ names to John Doe, and with the same charges and same circumstances, they will receive the compassionate release.
Therefore, common sense will dictate the only reason for denial was the “label” and the ethnicity. Look at appeal cases. You add the subject matter of “organized crime” to that appeal, and it shifts the balance of odds. Why is that? Lady Justice is blind, isn’t she? She should not see labels, color, background, affiliations, and ethnicity. The law, and the law alone, should be weighed and measured. Nothing else.
I happen to be talking about the effects on Italian Americans because obviously it is what I relate to. However, minorities know exactly what I am talking about, and, unfortunately, can relate. People of all races have experienced injustice, unfortunately. I am merely referencing those who seem to be up against it time and again.
As I started my podcast, I took interest into cases whereas individuals were innocent and yet found guilty where they spent years of their life behind bars. Fortunately for some, thanks to science and great lawyers, they were vindicated and many of those cases involved minorities.
It is all about being a target. The government want the headlines, so they look to target whoever attracts those headlines. Throw “organized crime” in that headline and ratings go through the roof. In a small town, there may be an individual that is simply not liked by law enforcement and now they become the target. The whole concept of “target” is out of balance. Let the crimes and the evidence bring the cases. Don’t focus on headlines, but on actual conduct.
Can you explain, especially in high-profile cases, how the past haunts a defendant – that even though a prior case has been settled and resolved, it can be used against a defendant in a new case? How does that affect the balance on the scales of justice?
It tips them dramatically. The prosecution will use that to plant the seed of “guilty” in the juror’s mind even before they are selected. They spread the headlines of a defendant’s past, their alleged position, their supposed affiliations, anything and everything to stain their reputation and build a foundation of guilty.
Throughout a case, they will harp on past acts, past convictions, and whatever other past events to build that theme of “Well they were guilty before, they are guilty now.” The problem is that is not how the law is supposed to work. Regardless of the past, you are to decide guilt based on what is currently presented – not what was done in the past that is not included in the charged counts.
It is a tremendous tool that the prosecution will use time and again, and an unsuspecting juror and the public are not realzing what is being done subliminally. Building blocks of guilt are being stacked solely on past actions and not the current charges. It is an extremely dangerous and strategic move that, unfortunately, works to their advantage time and again.
What are your thoughts on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)?
The law was introduced specifically to enhance the ability to charge and indict an individual who is accused of being a member of organized crime. It is an intentionally complex law that is widely expanded and all encompassing to basically cast a large net when bringing charges. The complexity of the count and charge confuse jurors intentionally. I know lawyers who have a difficult time explaining the entire details of the RICO charge. Imagine a citizen with no background serving on a jury panel asking to decide the fate of someone based on a charge they don’t even understand.
Unfortunately, human nature will kick in and you will get a juror who gets so confused by the allegations that they mix RICO charge with the concept of just being accused of being a member of a secret society and assume that is where the guilt lies to fulfill the charge. So, in their mind, if they believe the defendant is a member, then they must vote guilty on the charges.
As we talked about earlier, RICO is what allows the prosecution to bring up past acts, even going as far back as 10 years from the date of the last alleged, overt criminal act, to charge an individual. Why is that happening?
Again, it is a tool that they use to pretty much keep an investigation ongoing until, eventually, a case can be made. Keep reupping the captured time frame by moving the alleged overt act, therefore expanding the timespan one has to build a case. It’s almost like getting constant never-ending extensions. All tricks that are used by manipulating laws and stretching capabilities to allow for targets to be focused on and cases built upon.
So, when does this game of tag end with the government using this past alleged conduct from decades earlier to make their case?
That is the problem. It does not end. They have a target, and they will go by all means necessary, even inventing a case, as was done with my father, just to throw as much mud against the wall as possible in hopes something with stick. Due to society, unfair rulings, limitations on defense, uneducated and incapable jurors, more often than not, some mud sticks.
So, what it becomes, essentially, is a “double jeopardy” type of thing where a person can actually be sent to prison to serve a term after having already paid their debt to society prior. Or it can provide the government with a “second bite of the apple” in trying to convict a defendant who had been exonerated earlier of the same conduct. It clearly doesn’t balance the scales of justice very well.
It all goes back to utilizing laws and tools to manipulate and to achieve the goal of putting their target behind bars. What is most amazing about that concept is during a trial I witnessed, the prosecution went back 40 years on a defendant, talking about crimes they supposedly committed in the 70s, way before the alleged charges took place. The case period began in 2000, yet the government was permitted to talk about alleged criminal conduct that the defendant allegedly took part in during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Now, what does that have to do with the current charges? Absolutely nothing.
It is used to spoil the reputation and build the concept of the “career criminal” – “if not guilty of the charges, they are guilty of something” mindset in the jurors. Therefore, all that alleged conduct has been subliminally planted in their heads, and when the time comes to deliberate, you know damn well it will resurface and factor into their vote.
Here is the kicker. When the defense requests to discuss the criminal history, habits, and actions committed by the informants on the case, more often than not, their motions to do so are denied. I still need someone to explain to me how that practice is allowed, because I can’t understand it.
Can you explain the Pinkerton Liability charge and how it can paint an innocent person with the guilty brush?
The Pinkerton Liability charge is a charge which basically says if you are part of an organization and someone in that organization commits a crime, whereas you had no knowledge or participation in that crime or crimes but the acts could have been “reasonably foreseeable”, then you are guilty. Now, how does that make any sense, and how is something so vague a law that a conviction can be made? Who defines “reasonably foreseeable”? How can a term, which it’s immediate definition can be a topic of debate, be a measurement of one’s guilt? On top of that, you are now saying someone does not have to have any knowledge of a crime, zero participation, and yet they can still be found guilty? Common sense, right off the bat, tells me that is unconstitutional.
You want to use a term of “reasonably foreseeable” to instruct a jury to convict someone. So, now, a juror has the power to gauge how “foreseeable” something may or may not have been for a defendant. How would anyone know what a defendant can possibly foresee as it relates to someone they may know and their actions? It is absurdity at the highest level and is being used improperly time and again to snag a conviction where a defendant had no knowledge and/or participation in the charged crimes.
It used to be that the individual was required to have knowledge and participation in, I believe, two overt acts to get lumped into RICO and to try and justify the charge. Now, with the combination of Pinkerton Liability, you are eliminating that small criteria as well and leaving it open to convict anyone who is a supposed member of an enterprise.
So, think about it. In one breath the law says it is not illegal to be a member of a secret society. However, in the next breath, they are charging you for being an alleged member under the theory that if anyone in the secret society commits a crime, any one member can be charged even if they had no knowledge or participation.
I still can’t wrap my head around that concept.
Something many people may not know is that informants are paid in a variety of way, whether it’s reduced sentencing, paid mortgages, monthly subsistence or whatever – using taxpayer dollars, of course – to help the government with their case against a defendant. What kind of insight can you give us about informants as it relates to cases you have worked on?
Listen, regardless of my personal opinion on informants, at the very least, I feel they should tell the truth. If that is who they are, that is their character to not be held accountable and to save their own skin by making deals, the least they can do is tell the truth. In my father’s case, all I saw was informant after informant tell lies and stories that were 100% false and had zero corroborating supporting evidence.
What was most fascinating is all informants except for two got up time and again and said, I never met Steve Crea, I never spoke to him, and I don’t know him. How does that make any sense? You are testifying about someone you don’t know and never even met? It doesn’t make sense. That is the problem. It is merely smoke and mirrors to distract from the actual evidence. They parade each one up there who tell stories to get as much benefit from the government as possible.
One thing that bothered me, that was an insult to my common sense, was this point that each prosecutor would make to the jury when discussing the deals that the informant had. They would say time and again that the informant had no guarantee from them that they would receive a lesser punishment in exchange for their testimony. The informant would go along with that unrealistic narrative and paint it as if there was a strong possibility they would not gain any benefit of less time based on their testimony. Now, does anyone really buy that?
Let’s take a step back and again pull the figures. I want to see the statistics of informants who testified, gained convictions, and then were sentenced for the crimes they made a deal for. I guarantee it is a dramatic one-sided result of huge reduction. You pull those figures and you will see how greatly reduced their sentences were based on their cooperation.
They receive a letter for their cooperation called a 5k1 Letter. Basically, it is a review by the prosecution and government on how the informant performed. Now, you want to tell me, once a judge gets that letter and it shows “RAVE REVIEWS”, they are going to disregard it and give a high sentence anyway? It is an absurd view to take and not realistic, and yet you can see jurors buying into it as if the informant is actually risking not being helped for his cooperation. Again, smoke and mirrors to distract from what is really taking place. Common sense again chimes in. The better the stories, the more dirt an informant can give, the more lienancy they will receive.
The public needs to be aware that huge motivations and benefits are at play for an informant to give information. The problem is the incentives are so high, many informants do whatever necessary to gain the most and will lie to simply avoid personal accountability. The public should weigh each informant individually. Look at their character. Look at their conduct, Look at the benefits they are receiving, understand what sentences they are avoiding, and what crimes they have committed. Also, a huge and most important thing to consider is YOU ARE NOT GETTING THE WHOLE PICTURE.
Before trial begins, the defense fights for what they can discuss about the character, morals, habits, and current crimes an informant may possess or take part in. The judge decides what is allowed in and what is not. So, jurors remember, you may not be getting the full picture of the person who is in front of you. Obviously, the prosecution is going to clean them up both physically and performance wise. They have many sessions brushing up on their testimony, actual mock trials to polish and perfect their upcoming performance. You may never know what was not allowed in based on their character and conduct, so keep that in mind when evaluating. Try and use your inner conscience to gauge believability, agenda, and capabilities of the person in front of you.
Another interesting facet about informants is that people who don’t even know the defendant can be put on the stand to testify. How is that even possible? And how detrimental is it to a defendant’s case?
Correct. As I cited above, I just experienced that first hand. They do that to enhance the supposed reputation or to amplify the narrative they are trying to create. They will use these informants to reiterate things like, “Yes, this person held this position.” Some type of tactic or specific verbiage to stress the “label” that was given and that the prosecution wants you to believe. So, basically, they are saying, “Okay, this informant does not know this defendant, so how can we use him? We can have him or her talk about things they may have heard that could impact reputation.” Again, the jury buys into that.
So, you have an informant who never met, spoke, or interacted with the defendant, but you are bringing him up to discuss what he supposedly heard. Why not just go on Google and print out as much hearsay you can on the defendant and hand that out to the jurors as opposed to wasting a day having this person testify to basically nothing as it relates to evidence. It is simply hearsay coming from someone who said, “I heard this person say this about that person.” Think about how ridiculous that sounds when you put it like that, but when you insert labels such as “organized crime” and supposed “positions”, the juror’s eyes open wide and are captivated.
However, when you boil down the testimony, someone got on the stand and spoke a bunch of nonsense about an individual they didn’t even know. That being allowed in the justice system alone is baffling. The problem is it has a big impact because the prosecution will hedge their bets. They will parade informant after informant. Now, a reasonable-thinking person won’t factor in the amount of informants. They will weigh each one individually and judge accordingly. In other words, if I keep handing you $1 bills and tell you they are $5’s, no matter how many I hand you, is irrelevant. You will look at each one and determine if it is a 1 or a 5. If jurors would take that approach, the numbers would not matter. But I believe what happens is this” they get as many together as possible to pile them in, in hopes of building the mentality of “can all these people be wrong?” YES THEY CAN. Especially if they are lying.
However, more times than not, by shuffling them in results in the jury drinking the kool-aid, taking the bait that volume equals truth, which obviously it does not. Truth is gauged individually.
Speaking about truth, let’s discuss the use of wiretaps to try to prove the guilt of a defendant. In one of your cases, the prosecution claimed someone said on a wiretap, “Stay low or stay back” to try to tie the defendant to one of the particular charges. However, what was really said was, “He’s a good guy.” That’s a huge difference. Was that the only example? And how difficult was it to wade through all the wiretaps to find inconsistencies such as that in any of the cases you’ve worked on?
I cannot really get into the various inconsistencies as I would have to refer to what was made mention of on the public docket in the form of motions or minutes. I will say this, however. That was not the only example, and it is a common theme. It amplifies the importance of the defense team to go through the discovery with a fine-tooth comb. You cannot take the government’s word that what is said on an audio and reflected on the transcript as accurate. You have to pull it yourself, listen to it, and transcribe it.
Same with all aspects of the discovery: verify that the claims being made are actual representations. I am not saying it is all done purposely. However, the fact remains, even if it is an accidental variance, be sure you capture it. It was extremely time-consuming. My firm had members of our team listening, verifying, and transcribing.
It all goes back to why I stress the importance of defendants starting immediately on their case. They will get buried with discovery, so take advantage of all the time available from inception.
Even with all the hard work put into defending a client, sometimes a plea bargain might be the best bet. However, there also seems to be some confusion regarding plea bargains and why a defendant would take one. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re guilty. Can you expound on that?
Sure. If a person is indicted and they experience the stigma of having a label right from the beginning, they already know they have an uphill battle ahead to prove their innocence. Unlike the fantasy theory of “innocent until proven guilty”, in reality, they must prove they are 100% innocent. This is not always easy when you are dealing with being labeled by the media and the government, risking an unfair trial that limits many aspects of your defense, and you are up against liars.
I was always told there is nothing more dangerous than a liar because you just won’t know how to deal with them based on the lies. So, now you tell this individual, you can either take X amount of time and have this behind you or risk going to jail for the rest of your life.
In a perfect world, where a person is “innocent till proven guilty”, where the government has to prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt”, one where the jurors are not biased or predjudice, where a judge is completely fair – a world where prosecutors play by the rules – then I would say there would be no reason to plead guilty to something you didn’t do.
The problem with that is what I just stated is not the reality. All of those things, in fact, do exist and take place. So, when you are factoring in pleading to something you didn’t do and eventually having your life back versus risking all of those things and the potential of serving the rest of your life in jail, the truth is that any reasonable person would seriously contemplate a plea bargain.
Can you explain how going through a trial, high-profile or not, affects a family both before and during the trial? I can’t imagine it’s easy for anyone involved.
It is taxing on all levels. Emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially. The family is going through a very trying time and it is definitely exasperated if it is high-profile. On top of the normal adverse effects, now you must contend with headlines about your loved one and blatant lies being smeared all over media outlets.
Imagine having to read things that you know are complete and utter lies being told about someone you care about and the entire media passing it off as gospel. Especially now with the internet, it is burned onto that platform forever and continues to grow and morph.
The key is, you keep pushing forward. You support your family, you come together, you help your loved one, and you get through it. It may seem unbearable, it is challenging, and it is draining, but you cannot give up. You keep fighting, you keep supporting, and you keep pressing forward.
Final question. Can you share your opinion about the image created by the media in television, movies, and reality programs about Italian Americans? Where do they get it wrong?
Well, for me personally, I see far too many of these shows passing off Italians as loud mouth gavones. That is complete opposite of what I grew up with and surround myself with. I believe in being humble, having integrity, strong family morals, and an extreme work ethic.
By these shows embracing the whole “mob” nonsense, with their various titles, it truly destroys the Italian reputation. You see, these shows about people who are supposedly related to someone who is supposed to be somebody and they got a reality show? I don’t see it. It just don’t equate. Why even go that route? Why go along with that narrative? I personally can’t wrap my head around it.
Italians are hard-working people. We are honorable people. We try to help those in need, to care for our community, family, and friends. We have high standards and embrace chivalry. That is the narrative that should be portrayed, not one of every Italian claiming to be something they are not.
We will be taking a closer look at the case of Steven Crea in an in-depth article next week.
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