Attorneys for accused Hudson River bike path terrorist Sayfullo Saipov were outraged Thursday by Manhattan federal prosecutors’ late discovery of 46 wiretaps and called for further scrutiny of the storied Southern District of New York.
The new wiretaps of Saipov, an Uzbek ISIS sympathizer accused of killing eight people with a pickup truck on Halloween 2017, undermined years of preparation for his death penalty trial, lawyers at the Federal Defenders wrote. The discovery, which came after assurances from prosecutors they’d already turned over all wiretaps, was revealed only a week after a judge in another case slammed prosecutors for withholding crucial evidence against a man accused of violating sanctions against Iran.
Federal Defender David Patton wrote that the government’s explanation of “inadvertent errors” in the Saipov case was inadequate, given that a pattern of hiding evidence in the SDNY is emerging.
“The government’s false assurances to the Court and to the defense are coming to light just as discovery violations have been exposed in other national security-related prosecutions,” Patton wrote.
The Saipov trial has revealed that the accused terrorist was under government surveillance prior to the attack. The surveillance influenced FBI investigators’ questioning of Saipov while he was in a hospital recovering from gunshot wounds, the case has revealed. Saipov’s legal team now seeks to reopen an effort to suppress Saipov’s statements to the feds in light of the new wiretaps.
The Southern District of New York, nicknamed the “Sovereign Southern,” is known for its fierce independence from Justice Department headquarters in Washington and headline-grabbing cases. Southern District prosecutors are also like the New York Yankees: supremely confident and expected to win.
But that image has been marred by the botched prosecution of Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, an Iranian businessman accused of funneling money from construction projects in Venezuela to Iran using the U.S. financial system. The feds dropped the case earlier this year after it emerged prosecutors discussed “burying” an exculpatory document in the midst of trial.
Judge Alison Nathan is continuing to probe how the fiasco occurred, creating an ongoing embarrassment for the office and fodder for defense attorneys on other cases. Nathan wrote that it was possible the problems in Sadr “are not unique to this case.”
A spokesman for the Southern District declined to comment.